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Railroad admits liability for wreck in upcoming trial

A railroad company has admitted liability for a Minot, N.D., train derailment four years ago in a second round of lawsuits scheduled for trial this month.

A railroad company has admitted liability for a Minot, N.D., train derailment four years ago in a second round of lawsuits scheduled for trial this month.

Canadian Pacific Railway lawyer Tim Thornton said Friday he's weighing each case before determining whether to admit the company's fault in the wreck that killed one and injured more than 1,600 residents.

The railroad also admitted liability in three cases, including a wrongful death lawsuit that settled before a trial in October.

About 450 lawsuits filed in Minnesota state court and North Dakota remain pending against Canadian Pacific. Lawsuits filed in Minneapolis, home of the railroad's U.S. operations, have been grouped together to help them move through the courts.

Judge Tony Leung will preside over a trial starting Jan. 16 in Minneapolis. Jurors must determine the amount of damages Canadian Pacific should pay the plaintiffs.


Minot lawyer Mark Larson said one of the six lawsuits slated for trial settled on Thursday. He filed nearly 60 new lawsuits in Minneapolis last week for clients injured after the derailment.

The wreck caused catastrophic ruptures in tanker cars carrying hazardous materials.

More than 250,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia spilled from tanker cars and formed a vapor cloud that trapped residents in their homes.

Hundreds of people reported moderate to severe injuries to their eyes, lungs and upper respiratory system from exposure to the cloud of anhydrous ammonia, a common farm fertilizer.

"It's amazing how long this has gone on," Fargo lawyer Mike Miller said of the litigation.

Miller represents two people suing the railroad at the Jan. 16 trial and hundreds of plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against Canadian Pacific.

"You talk to a lot of people (in Minot) and they still have tears thinking back to that night," he said.

Last fall, Judge Leung dismissed tank car manufacturers as defendants in the lawsuits, determining the companies were protected under federal law. His signed order was filed with the court Dec. 29.


"As long as CP is 100 percent liable, it's not necessary to have any other parties in the case," Miller said.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which spent more than two years investigating the wreck, found the railroad failed to properly inspect and maintain its tracks beforehand.

The NTSB also called on the Federal Railroad Administration to study tank cars built before 1989. Tankers built before then are more susceptible to rupture in cold weather, according to the NTSB study.

In November, the FRA issued new railroad track standards because of three major wrecks, including the one in Minot. The FRA continues to work on improved tanker car standards.

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

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