KANSAS CITY, Mo. — BNSF Railway Company filed a complaint to compel arbitration in federal court Tuesday regarding instances in which the company was named in lawsuits related to a deadly June 27 Amtrak train derailment in Mendon, Missouri.
While traveling across the Southwest Chief path from Los Angeles to Chicago, an Amtrak train collided with a dump truck in Mendon. The collision resulted in the death of the dump truck operator and caused injury, including fatalities, to passengers aboard as the train derailed.
Court documents list the railway company’s reasoning for filing as due to “defendants’ refusal to comply with the terms of a pre-dispute arbitration agreement.”
BNSF claims the terms and conditions for travel on the Southwest Chief were acknowledged by travelers, including a binding arbitration agreement travelers were urged to read before purchasing a ticket.
READ: Full Amtrak derailment coverage
In the agreement, it is stated that “‘any party to which Amtrak owes indemnity … including without limitation any host railroad’ to enforce its terms,” meaning BNSF is “expressly entitled to enforce the arbitration agreement.”
Further, it notes the agreement “is intended to be as broad as legally permissible” relating to all claims concerning “yourself and any individuals for whom you purchase tickets, including, without limitation, family members, minor passengers colleagues and companions."
Claims include personal injuries, negligence, gross negligence, physical impairment, disfigurement, pain and suffering, mental anguish, wrongful death, survival actions, loss of consortium and/or services, medical and hospital expenses, expenses of transportation for medical treatment, expenses of drugs and medical appliances, emotional distress and explanatory or punitive damages arising out of or related to personal injury, per court documents.
Thus, BNSF argues there is "no question" the arbitration agreement covers the defendants' claims.
Specific cases named by BNSF include:
- Shaun Phan, et al. v. BNSF Railway Company, et al.
- Nick Cook, et al. v. BNSF Railway Company, et al.
- Daniel Holsapple, et al. v. BNSA Railway Company, et al.
The cases above are said to “irreparably harm” BNSF by denying “its contractual right to arbitrate the instant disputes,” according to court documents.
Therefore, BNSF is asking to prohibit defendants from continuing to pursue proceedings in the named cases, to prohibit defendants from pursuing claims related to the June incident, to prohibit the Circuit Court of Chariton County, Missouri, from further proceedings in the named cases and to direct other injunctive relief as needed to protect the company from the “wrongful conduct of defendants.”
Sam Wendt, the attorney representing Shaun Phan, tells KSHB 41 the suit brought by BNSF is "an attempt by Amtrak and others to tip the scales of justice away from the passengers who were gravely injured and the families of those who lost their lives."
"We are not aware of a single instance in American history where an arbitration clause of this type was enforced under these circumstances and intend to vigorously oppose Amtrak's efforts to avoid or limit their responsibility," Wendt said in a statement.
Nick Cook and Pauline Magin, also mentioned in the suit, are represented by attorney Mike Kuckelman, who was "surprised to learn" of the lawsuit.
"In times of disaster we see both the good and bad in people and unfortunately, we are seeing the absolute worst in BNSF as it attempts to deprive our clients of their day in court," Kuckelman said in a statement. "It is shocking that a $7 billion dollar a year company like BNSF would stoop to this level to avoid answering for its conduct in a public court proceeding. For years BNSF ignored numerous complaints regarding the dangers of the crossing, and now, BNSF is trying to deprive the victims of their day in court. It is an outrage, and we will fight BNSF to protect our clients’ Constitutional right to a trial by a jury of peers."
An Amtrak representative told KSHB 41 that "BNSF Railway made the filing" and is the "proper source" to comment.
KSHB 41 News has reached out to Amtrak, the attorneys of BNSF and the attorneys of the defendants listed in the suit.