Minnesota Supreme Court Affirms Record $5.6 Million Wrongful Death Award
Corey Chase was an outgoing young man with a wide circle of friends and close family ties when he was killed on September 26, 2003. Corey was a passenger in a car with three friends that entered the Ferry Street railroad crossing over BNSF tracks on a dark overcast evening. The gates at the crossing were in the up position and there were no activated lights, or sounds of warning bells to alert him and the others of an approaching BNSF locomotive and train traveling 65 mph. The collision cut the car in three pieces and all four occupants were found on the track ballast, deceased.
I had the privilege to represent the family of Corey in a claim against BNSF for its failure to properly maintain the crossing, and prevent this tragedy. At trial we proved BNSF knew of at least three prior activation failures. BNSF never traced the problem of the known activation failures, which could have prevented the loss of four young lives.
It took four-and-a-half years to get the case to trial which started in April of 2008, and ended six weeks later with a verdict on June 13, 2008. All rulings favored the families. The court found significant misconduct of BNSF employees in altering documents, losing evidence which would have documented the crossing gate failure, offering false testimony, and changing testimony during trial from previous statements made under oath. In addition to damages awarded by the jury, the trial judge sanctioned BNSF $4,180,398.90 for its misconduct, and for the extra time and expense that this misconduct caused for the families and their attorneys. Post-trial motions were followed by two-and-a-half years of appeals.
The families appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court requesting review of the appellate court decision. In a rare granting of the families appeal, the case was argued before the Minnesota Supreme Court April 22, 2011. After eleven months of review by the Minnesota Supreme Court, a historic decision was handed down March 28, 2012. The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals decision, and found that the case was properly and fairly tried with correct jury instructions as agreed to by the parties.
This case will stand among the historic cases in Minnesota judicial history, and across the country. On behalf of the families, we persisted in the pursuit of justice against the enormous resources of the railroad to uncover the deceit and misconduct that led to the death of our clients, which took them from their parents, siblings and friends. Each of the decedents has a presence and memory that endures to this day in the hearts and minds of their family and friends. It has been a most gratifying experience for me as a trial lawyer to be asked to participate in this case, and become friends with my colleagues and all of the families that have endured this loss, and were burdened for nine years without a resolution, until today. I admire the families and the challenges they overcame to continue on in life. I hope that the result we were able to achieve on their behalf in some small way helps to relieve their burden.