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This week, the families of the four young adults who died when a freight train slammed into their car, were awarded $4 million when a Washington County judge ruled the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company tried to cover up evidence during the trial.
In that trial, which ended a year ago, a jury awarded the families $21 million and placed 90 percent of the blame for the crash on Burlington Northern. The additional $4 million is a sanction against the railroad for what Judge Ellen Maas called "staggering" misconduct during the trial.
William Bongard represented the family of one of the four teens killed in a train crossing accident in 2003.
When the families and their attorneys took the case to trial, a jury awarded them $21.6 million in damages. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation appealed that decision and refused to pay.
Then the attorneys for the families filed sanctions against the railroad, to punish them for their attempts to cover up their responsibility for the accident; because the crossing gate wasn't working properly and because they destroyed evidence, fabricated evidence, interfered with the investigation and lied.
The verdict of $21.6 million to the families of four young adults killed in a 2003 train-car accident was among the largest wrongful-death awards ever in Minnesota.
But the case is bigger than that, the families' attorneys said Tuesday. Maybe $45 million bigger. Claiming that Burlington Northern Santa Fe fabricated, destroyed and withheld evidence that prevented the families from recovering punitive damages, the families' lawyers asked a Washington County judge for sanctions against the railroad of $45 million or more.
It's extremely gratifying to garner a $6 million verdict for the family of someone who died due to the negligence of someone else. But, the best part is knowing that an opponent who chose to ignore the rules is facing tough sanctions.
So say a group of five Twin Cities lawyers who represented four families following their children's deaths after a Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company ("BNSF") train crashed into their car on Sept. 26, 2003.
The families of four young adults killed in a horrific train-car accident nearly five years ago were awarded $24 million by an Anoka County District Court jury that rejected earlier suggestions the victims had tried to beat a train to the crossing.
In its ruling, the jury determined Burlington Northern Santa Fe was 90 percent responsible for the crash and the driver was 10 percent responsible, said Bill Bongard, who represented the Rhoades family of Blaine.