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Family OKs derailment settlement

A family formerly living in a rural Minot, N.D., housing development settled their lawsuit against Canadian Pacific Railway for injuries suffered in a 2002 train derailment.

A family formerly living in a rural Minot, N.D., housing development settled their lawsuit against Canadian Pacific Railway for injuries suffered in a 2002 train derailment.

The Juntunen family - Henry, Linda and their son Joey - accepted an offer from the railroad Tuesday.

Ron Barczak, the family's attorney, said the Juntunens plan to testify for other neighbors suing the railroad. He declined to disclose terms of their settlement.

"This has been a very difficult process for the Juntunens," Barczak said Wednesday.

The Juntunens helped save neighbor MeLea Grabinger and attempted to save her husband, he said.


"I think the Juntunens are heroes," said Barczak, whose Minneapolis firm specializes in railroad injury lawsuits.

The family never moved back to their rural home in Tierracita Vallejo after the wreck and now lives in Minot.

The settlement doesn't affect lawsuits filed by MeLea Grabinger, who sought refuge in their home after the wreck, and Warren Howell, another neighbor. The Grabinger and Howell suits remain on target for trial next week when jury selection begins.

The suits are the first scheduled for trial among the nearly 400 cases against Canadian Pacific in Minnesota and North Dakota. Barczak represents clients in 65 other lawsuits.

The railroad's attorney, Tim Thornton of Minneapolis, said Canadian Pacific was glad to resolve the Juntunen claim. He said the railroad has resolved about 25,000 claims in the Minot wreck, although nearly all of the most seriously injured still have pending litigation against Canadian Pacific.

District Judge Tony Leung expects to issue rulings Friday for two dozen motions filed by attorneys and debated Tuesday. Most of the motions focus on what type of evidence can be presented to jurors.

One significant ruling could prove to be whether Leung allows the plaintiffs' attorneys to present evidence from a 1994 derailment in nearby Burlington, N.D.

Canadian Pacific agreed to a $24 million settlement with Chad Yale's family after he suffered disfiguring injuries from a butane explosion prompted by the wreck. The railroad's internal investigation showed it failed to properly maintain its track before the derailment.



Also on Tuesday, lawyers informally discussed whether Canadian Pacific's admission to liability for the derailment in the upcoming trial should apply to future lawsuits.

The Jan. 18, 2002, derailment injured more than 1,600 people in and around Minot. Most of those injured suffered chemical burns to the eyes, throat, nose and respiratory system from exposure to a vaporous cloud of anhydrous ammonia, a common farm fertilizer.

A witness statement provided by the Juntunens to the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the wreck, provides few details about their experience.

However, Linda Juntunen reported lung injuries, constant coughing and anxiety attacks after the derailment.

John Grabinger, the lone fatality the night of the wreck, died from exposure to the chemical cloud. MeLea Grabinger's lawsuit says the couple attempted an escape but accidentally drove a truck into the Juntunens' garage.

MeLea Grabinger eventually made her way into the Juntunens' home. By the time she reached a Minot hospital, she was in respiratory failure and placed in the intensive care unit.

Her lawsuit claims Canadian Pacific failed to weld a joint connecting sections at the derailment site for about 20 months leading up to the wreck.


Last month, Canadian Pacific admitted liability. The judge has ruled plaintiffs can't seek punitive damages.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542

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