A lawsuit filed in Arkansas against Union Pacific claims company officials pressured families of those injured or killed by trains to quickly settle for amounts lower than what they may have received with a lawyer’s help.
The suit, now being argued before a Lafayette County judge, says officials came to families in emergency rooms or while they still grieved. Arkansas residents James Freeman, Robert Udell and Victor Vickers sued the company, asking for class-action status to involve anyone injured or who lost a family member in crashes at crossings, on a rail or near one from 1992 to Feb. 15, 2005.
If granted class-action status, lawyers for the three say as many as 300 people who settled cases with Delaware-based Union Pacific without a legal assistance could be included as plaintiffs.
Udell’s daughter was killed in an incident involving a Union Pacific train. Vickers and Freeman suffered injuries in separate incidents.
Circuit Court Judge Jim Hudson heard arguments by both sides at hearings Thursday and Friday. Lawyers Phillip Duncan of Little Rock and Thomas Jones of Missouri, representing the three Arkansas residents, said Union Pacific officials would tell those with claims that hiring an attorney would do nothing but cost them money. The lawyers said officials also would say hiring a lawyer would cause a lengthy delay in receiving settlement money.
Jones said some company officials even told families that the company had tall buildings full of experienced lawyers sure to win any injury or wrongful death case brought to court.
Lawyers for Union Pacific dismissed the claims, saying the company did nothing wrong. Even if the company did, the lawyers said the cases would be so different that they would have to be dealt with incident by incident, not in a class-action lawsuit.
Hudson will take the bench Nov. 5 to hear the two sides continue their debate. Once the hearing ends, Hudson has 90 days to rule on whether the suit will deal solely with the three Arkansas residents or include others.
Information from: Texarkana Gazette, www.texarkanagazette.com
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