Judgment upheld in Minn. train collision case

By Katherine Wartell

The Minnesota Supreme Court has upheld a lower-court judgment awarding $21.6 million to the families of four people killed in a 2003 train collision in Minnesota.

One of the attorneys in the original case against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. was Robert Pottroff of Manhattan.

In a 25-page ruling, the court reversed a 2010 Minnesota Court of Appeals decision that said the case should be retried because jurors were instructed to use the wrong legal standard before they found the railroad 90 percent responsible for the crash.

“We conclude that any error in the instructions and verdict form did not affect the fairness and integrity of the proceedings,” the Supreme Court said.

The railroad has the option of appealing the decision.

Judge Ellen Maas also awarded $4.2 million in sanctions to the victims’ families and their lawyers, saying that the railroad had engaged in a “staggering” pattern of misconduct in the case.” Among other things, Maas said the railroad 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.

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