Burlington Northern Santa Fe Rail Company Complains Too Much Value Placed on Victim’s Lives | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

A jury in Anoka County, Minnesota (MN) awarded $21.6 million to the families of four young people who were killed in 2003 by a car-train crash. The jury found Burlington Northern responsible for the train wreck and the judge awarded an additional $4 million to the families since the judge found Burlington Northern engaged in a “staggering pattern of misconduct,” according to the Star Tribune.

Burlington Northern’s lawyers are appealing the verdict claiming it was excessive and “unprecedented.” Basically, they’re saying these young people’s lives are not worth roughly $6 million each. They also contend the judge who oversaw the trial may not have had the “inherent authority” to award the additional $4 million in sanctions.

There are many expletives I’d like to use to describe Burlington Northern’s argument for appeal, but I’ll keep it PG-rated. Let’s just say it’s weak.

First and foremost, just because the jury returned a verdict that is unprecedented does not negate the jury’s decision.

In addition, one of the attorneys who represented the four families in court mentioned the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency calculated the monetary value of a statistical life at $6.9 million. “After what’s been cited in this case, I’d say Burlington Northern has little to complain about,” the attorney said. Remember, the award breaks down to $6 million for each family suffering from the loss of their child, each of whom was in their late teens or early 20s.

I understand where the attorney is coming from since our law firm also secured a large, historic verdict in a railroad accident case in Virginia (VA). The critics come out of the woodwork proclaiming the jury award is gratuitous and unnecessary. If they would only spend five minutes with the victim’s families, I think their critiques would cease.   

Unfortunately, Burlington Northern will probably drag out the appeal’s process potentially denying the families their compensation for years. Nevertheless, interest will accrue on the original jury award so hopefully, if the families are able to get through the lengthy appeals process, they will attain the compensation our jury system determined they rightfully deserve. 

The crossing accident attorney who primarily handled this case, Sharon Van Dyke, is a friend of our firm, who we have gotten to know through the AAJ Railroad Law Section and Grade Crossing Accident Litigation Group. She is a devoted fighter for her injured clients and their families. The war stories she has told about the discovery abuses by the railroad company are amazing. She is truly one of the best, hardest working lawyers I know. I am so glad she achieved this great result for the victim’s families.