SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — A group of individuals representing living trusts in Sioux Center have filed a lawsuit against railroad giant BNSF over a train derailment that happened in 2018.
The lawsuit alleges that the company instructed its employees to operate trains in conditions that were unsafe which led to the train derailment on June 22, 2018.
“At the foregoing time and place, Defendant BNSF was aware that the tracks over which Defendant and its conductor were to operate the train were flooded out, improperly maintained, not properly inspected and unsafe,” the lawsuit reads.
The plaintiffs in the case include Phillip Kooima, Krisi Kooima, John Kooima, Helen Kooima, and four trusts in which individual plaintiffs are the trustee of the trust. All the plaintiffs are being represented by Michael Murphy and Gene Collins.
According to the lawsuit, the derailment lead to 160,000 gallons of tar sand oil spilling into the waters that flooded the train tracks. A report by the National Transportation Safety Board found that speed was not a factor in the derailment. Instead heavy rain over the course of 48 hours had washed out the tracks over which the train was meant to operate.
The plaintiffs said in their lawsuit that this oil spill caused harm both to them and to the environment. Collectively the plaintiffs own approximately 464 acres of farmland in Lyon County. They say that their land was damaged by the oil spill and the overall value of the land has been damaged.
The plaintiffs are asking both for actual damages and punitive damages, which are damages paid in excess of actual damage intended as a punishment for the defendant.
“An award of punitive damages is necessary to punish BNSF for its willful and wanton disregard for other’s property rights and to deter it and other similarly situated companies from operating recklessly in the future,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit was initially filed in Lyon County as a district court case, however, it has since been moved to federal court.
According to filings from BNSF, the railroad was in talks with the plaintiffs over settlement discussions. The company had already agreed to pay $1.5 million as a result of a settlement with the environmental protection agency.
BNSF as of yet has not filed a response to the plaintiff’s claims.