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First a Wrongful Death Verdict of $21 Million; Now a New Trial

An appellate court recently ruled that a wrongful death case that resulted in a $21.6 million verdict should be retried. Florida wrongful death lawyers following the case note that the accident involved, which was a collision between a car and a train in Minnesota, brought about that state’s largest ever wrongful death verdict for the deaths of minors or young adults.

The railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, will have a new opportunity to prove it was not responsible for the crash. However, the appeals court did not overturn the damages award. The damages remain at $21.6 million, but BNSF will try to argue that it should not have to pay the money.

All of this despite the fact that the trial judge found BNSF engaged in a “staggering” pattern of misconduct aimed at covering up its role in the crash.

The fatal crash occurred on the night of Sept. 26, 2003. A freight train, traveling at 59 miles per hour, collided with Brian Frazier’s Chevrolet Cavalier as it crossed the railroad tracks. BNSF said the driver ignored a warning signal and tried to beat the crossing gate, but a jury concluded the crossing gate wasn’t working properly.

The trial judge ruled that BNSF began destroying evidence within minutes of the 2003 accident, and awarded $4.2 million in punitive damages to the victims’ families and their lawyers. This was in addition to the record wrongful death damages.

A three-judge Minnesota appellate court said by a two-to-one majority that the law applied to the case should have been federal law, not state law. Since state law was applied in the trial, a new trial is ordered. Now the case will go to the Minnesota Supreme Court on the same issue.

“We’re miles apart,” one parent of a victim said of the families and the railroad. “They are a business and I am a mother. It pains me that it’s strictly a business transaction to them.”

Killed in the crash were Frazier, 20; Bridgette Shannon, 17; Corey Chase, 20; and Harry Rhoades Jr., 19.

Source: Star Tribune “Appeals Court rules for BNSF in fatal Anoka accident” 9/14/2010

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