Missouri train accident victims must use arbitration

BNSF Railway Co. has asked a federal court to require victims of a fatal Amtrak crash in Missouri to pursue settlements through arbitration, rather than a lawsuit.

BNSF owns the Amtrak railroad line in use when a Western Chief train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago collided with a dump truck blocking an intersection near Mendon, Missouri.

Three train passengers and a truck driver died and dozens more were injured in the June 27 collision.

Several lawsuits have been filed since the collision against the two railroad companies. Missouri transportation officials, Chariton County leaders and area residents have pushed for increased safety at the crossing, which is steep and has no lights or other signals to warn of approaching trains.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, BNSF asked for a preliminary injunction to require victims to use arbitration instead of continuing the lawsuit in court. The company also asked the judge to stay the lawsuit pending in the Missouri court until the arbitration question is settled.

BNSF, based in Fort Worth, Texas, argues that when passengers buy tickets from Amtrak, they check the box agreeing to the terms and conditions, which include a binding arbitration agreement. BNSF argues that the term applies to the company because it is the host railroad for Amtrak.

Grant Davis, who was appointed as the lead attorney for the plaintiffs’ committee working to consolidate pre-trial issues in many of the lawsuits, said BNSF is trying to strip his clients of their constitutional right to a jury trial.

“We believe they are factually and legally wrong on this issue,” Davis said. “The fact that BNSF is not a party to (Amtrak’s) bad business in the arbitration agreement is fatal to this business. It adds insult to injury for BNSF to file a case against the injured people.

Among the defendants named in the lawsuit are relatives of the three passengers who died: Rochelle Cook, 58, and Kim Holsapple, 56, both of De Soto, Kansas; and Binh Pham, 82, from Kansas City, Missouri.

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