COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Railroad company BNSF is asking a federal court to throw out lawsuits over a deadly Chariton County Amtrak crash in a move some passengers' attorneys are calling "unconstitutional."
BNSF Railway filed suit Tuesday in the Eastern District of Missouri. BNSF owns and operates the rails the train was traveling on. The suit was filed against some of the passengers who were injured and whose family members were killed.
The June crash at a crossing near Mendon left four dead and more than 100 injured.
"We believe all these tactics are delaying tactics and sometimes justice delayed is justice denied," said Grant Davis, an attorney representing more than 70 victims in lawsuits against Amtrak and BNSF.
The BNSF lawsuit says victims who sued the company will have to arbitrate with the company, meaning they will have to settle the dispute in private with a few attorneys, and not through a trial where a jury can determine the financial award.
"It's not like anybody ever knows what they're agreeing to or really want to agree to it. But these corporations sneak this stuff in and then want to use it to deny people the right to a jury trial because," said Steven Nelson, the attorney for the family of Billy Barton, who drove the dump truck that collided with the train at the rural crossing that lacked lights, audible warnings and gate arms.
Barton was driving a loaded dump truck and was killed in the crash along with three train passengers. The crossing had long been identified as needing upgrades.
The arbitration agreement is part of the terms Amtrak passengers must agree to when they purchase their tickets. Typically, passengers are not aware of the arbitration agreement because they don't read the 20,000 terms and conditions.
Davis said the lawsuit is unconstitutional.
"In the Missouri Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, you have a constitutional right to a jury. They are trying to do away with that by doing what's called forced arbitration. You can't do that in all circumstances," Davis said.
Davis said BNSF is not mentioned in Amtrak's agreement, therefore the company cannot use Amtrak's agreement to sue victims.
Representatives for BNSF declined to comment.