12/07/2022 by Jose Bautista 0 Comments
Fatal Train Derailment in Missouri: 4 Dead, Hundreds Injured
On June 27, 2022, at around 12:40 p.m. CT, an Amtrak train collided with a dump truck causing the train to derailin Mendon, Missouri. Two locomotives along with seven train cars derailed causing the deaths of three passengers and the driver of the truck. The train was carrying over 250 passengers and crew and was headed to Los Angeles, CA from Chicago, IL. Over 150 individuals were reportedly injured during the collision and taken to nearby hospitals. Two of the passengers and the truck driver were pronounced dead upon the scene while the third passenger passed away at the hospital.
Amtrak train collided with a dump truck causing the train to derail in Mendon, Missouri.
It has since been reported that the crossing at which the incident occurred did not have proper signs, barriers, or warnings. Locals have been reporting for over a year about safety concerns regarding the railroad crossing because of its lack of visibility and steep grade that has caused vehicles to get high-centered or stuck. While the State had placed the crossing high on its priority list in July 2021, improvements were still a few years away due to budget constraints. Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway (“BNSF”), which owns the railroad crossing, claimed that it had not been contacted about that particular location. However, a spokeswoman from the Missouri Department of Transportation stated that BNSF had been contacted about the crossing upgrades but the diagnostic review had yet to be scheduled.
Within days of the accident, multiple lawsuits had been filed by Amtrak, BNSF, passengers of the train, and family members of the deceased. Erin Barton, the widow of Billy Barton (“Barton”), who was driving the truck, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Chariton County against BNSF for failing to properly inspect the railroad crossing and its dangerous conditions. More specifically, Barton complained that BNSF allowed the crossing surface to deteriorate over time to create a “hump”, that it refused to remove sight-obstructive vegetation near the crossing and prevented motorists and train crews from seeing one another in time to avoid a collision, and that it ignored the need to upgrade the existing crossbucks to active flashing light signals with automatic gates. Suits filed by injured passengers against Amtrak and/or its train crew alleged train operations failures, including the claim that the train had too many passengers and created a “cattle car” condition.
Just a day after Erin Barton filed her lawsuit, Amtrak and BNSF filed a suit against MS Contracting LLC (“MS Contracting”), the company that owns the dump truck Barton was operating. The suit against MS Contracting was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri and alleges that Barton, an MS Contracting employee, acted recklessly when he failed to yield to the oncoming train. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that MS Contracting failed to properly train its employees and maintain their trucking equipment. In their complaint, Amtrak and BSNF alleged that Barton simply failed to yield to the train’s right of way. The companies further alleged that the crew of the train did what they were supposed to do when they approached the crossing, which was to sound the train horn from a quarter of a mile away and to operate the train at or below the federal speed limit of 90 m.p.h. The lawsuit contends that Amtrak and BNSF each incurred over $75,000 in damages.
As for other passengers planning to bring action against these railroads, especially Amtrak, there are a couple of extraordinary obstacles that will have to be navigated. First, Congress has capped the amount Amtrak has to pay passengers in civil litigation to $320 million for a single accident. Meaning that in total, those who were injured may not receive the compensation to which they would be entitled. Second, Amtrak has put in place a requirement to send victims of an accident to arbitration instead of the court along with a limitation on class actions. Some practitioners argue that the cap is unconstitutional and that recent legal trends against forced arbitrations could benefit passengers seeking to bring suit against Amtrak.
Overall, as the investigation goes on it will become clearer about what exactly happened and if anything could have prevented it. Currently, there have not been any comments about the pending suits from either Amtrak or BNSF. Railroad crossing litigation is highly specialized with the involvement of such technical equipment as track image recorders, locomotive black boxes, and the train itself. It also involves unusual legal traps such as preemption and spoliation, in addition to the damage cap and forced arbitration issues specific to Amtrak. Litigants have already been subjected to the tactics of the railroads, experiencing “snap” removals of their state court filings to federal court.
If you or a loved one was injured in the Mendon railroad crash, call Bautista LeRoy LLC at 816-221-0382. Our attorneys possess over 20 years of railroad grade crossing litigation experience and obtained millions for our grade crossing collision clients. We would be happy to answer any questions. Visit www.bautistaleroy.com for more information.