Lawsuits Filed Over Lafayette Derailment

May 22, 2008

Several lawsuits have been filed in state and federal court against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. that seek damages from a train derailment in Lafayette, La., that forced the evacuation of about 3,000 Lafayette residents.

Six cars went off the tracks early on May 17, spilling 10,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid. The residents were allowed to return home the next day.

The suits seek class-action status and could be combined into one suit.

Some of the residents filed lawsuits because they are being asked by BNSF to sign documents releasing the company from all future liability in exchange for having hotel and meals paid for during the evacuation, plaintiff attorney Jay Suire said.

Louisiana law encourages private parties to settle disputes and claims outside the courts to avoid prolonged lawsuits, BNSF spokesman Joseph Faust said. Residents are videotaped at railroad’s claims center “as a part of being thorough, so that we have their statement if there is a discrepancy,”; he said.

In the first 24 hours that the claims center was open, the company settled more than 300 claims, Faust said. Only three residents did not agree to terms of the settlement, he said.

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