BNSF Railway Co. has asked a federal court to order victims of a deadly Amtrak crash in Missouri to pursue settlements through arbitration rather than lawsuits.
BNSF owns 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 passengers and a truck driver died in the collision on June 27 and dozens more were injured.
The collision has resulted in multiple lawsuits against both railway companies. Missouri transportation officials, Chariton County leaders and areas residents had been calling for safety upgrades at the crossing, which is steep and has no lights or other signals to warn about an approaching train.
In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, BNSF asked for a preliminary injunction to require the victims to use arbitration rather than proceed with their lawsuits in court. The judge asked the judge to halt action on lawsuits pending in Missouri courts until the arbitration question is settled.
When passengers bought tickets from Amtrak, they checked a box agreeing to terms and conditions, which includes binding arbitration agreements, according to BNSF, based in Fort Worth, Texas. BNSF claims the terms apply to the company because it is the host railroad for Amtrak.
Grant Davis, who was appointed a lead attorney for a plaintiff s committee that was trying to consolidate pre-trial matters in the many lawsuits, said BNSF is trying to take away his clients' constitutional right to a jury trial.
Davis said that they believe that they are wrong on this issue. The fact that BNSF was not a party to Amtrak's poor attempt at an arbitration agreement is fatal to this effort. It adds to the insult to injury for BNSF to file a case against the people it injured. Among the defendants named in the lawsuit are relatives of the three victims who died, Rochelle Cook, 58, and Kim Holsapple, 56, both of De Soto, Kansas City, Missouri.