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BNSF: Rail accident victims should have to go to arbitration

BNSF Railway Co. has asked a federal court to require victims of a fatal Amtrak accident in Missouri to seek settlements through arbitration, rather than lawsuits.

BNSF owns the railroad tracks used by Amtrak when a Southwest Chief train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago collided with a pickup truck blocking an intersection near Mendon, Missouri. Three train passengers and the truck driver were killed and dozens more were injured in the June 27 collision.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed since the collision against both rail companies. Missouri transportation officials, Chariton County leaders and area residents had been pushing to improve safety at the crossing, which is steep and had no lights or other signs to warn of an approaching train.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, BNSF sought a preliminary injunction requiring the victims to use arbitration instead of pursuing their claims in court. The company also asked the judge to stay actions in lawsuits pending in Missouri courts until the arbitration issue is resolved.

Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF argues that when passengers purchased Amtrak tickets, they checked a box to accept the terms and conditions, which include binding arbitration agreements. BNSF argues that the terms apply to the company because it is Amtrak’s host railroad.

Grant Davis, who was appointed lead counsel for a plaintiffs’ committee working to consolidate pretrial issues in the numerous lawsuits, said BNSF is trying to take away its clients’ constitutional right to a jury trial.

“We think they are factually and legally wrong on this issue,” Davis said. “The fact that BNSF was not a party to (Amtrak’s) poor attempt at an arbitration agreement is fatal to this effort. BNSF injury. bring a case against the very people he injured.”

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, of Kansas City, Missouri.

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