Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. engaged in a “staggering” pattern of misconduct aimed at covering up its role in the deaths of four young people whose car collided with a train largely because a crossing gate wasn’t working properly. To punish the railroad, which began destroying evidence within minutes of the 2003 accident, a judge awarded an additional $4 million to the victims’ families. That award comes on top of $21.6 million from a jury that placed 90% of the blame for the accident on Burlington Northern. The judge’s order stated:
When encountering conduct as egregious as that of BNSF, this court … has a duty to impose sanctions of a sufficient severity in order to deter future misconduct of the same caliber.
On the date of the incident in 2003, a westbound freight train traveling at 59 miles per hour collided with Brian Frazier’s car as it crossed the tracks at about 10 p.m. in Anoka, Minnesota. Burlington Northern claimed that the driver ignored a warning signal and tried to beat the crossing gate, but a jury found that the crossing gate wasn’t working properly. The trial judge found that the railroad company lost or fabricated evidence, interfered with the families’ investigation of the accident and “knowingly advanced lies, misleading facts and/or misrepresentations” in order to conceal the truth. This sort of conduct by parties involved in litigation can’t be tolerated!
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