Six years after Richard Knight was killed when a BNSF train struck him in northern Oklahoma, a jury has awarded his family $9 million in a negligence lawsuit.
The Edmond man was killed at a BNSF railroad crossing on May 8, 2018. His family sued Burlington Northern Santa Fe in Pawnee County where the accident happened. The train struck Knight’s vehicle causing an explosion and fire.
The lawsuit contended the railway had been warned repeatedly about the limited sight distances at the crossing. Old BNSF buildings on railroad property were close to the tracks and hinired sight.
The suit pointed out there had been eight previous train crashes at the crossing before Knight was killed. After a two and one-half week trial, the jury concluded the railway company was negligent in Knight’s death and it amounted to reckless disregard for the safety of others.
The Knight family attorney explained what led to the negligence:
In Lela, Oklahoma BNSF owned a building on its “right of way” very close to its tracks that it leased to Morrison Grain, a small family owned grain company. In 2011, BNSF finally decided to have the buildings demolished because the building dangerously restricted the visibility at the crossing. But, instead of tearing down the buildings itself, BNSF ordered Morrison Grain to demolish the buildings at Morrison Grain’s expense. BNSF had leased the buildings to Morrison Grain and BNSF invoked a provision in the lease to force Morrison Grain to pay for BNSF’s buildings to be demolished. The cost was $50,000.00. BNSF had the ability and equipment available to tear down the BNSF buildings itself. Instead, by forcing Morrison Grain to demolish the buildings, the dangerous condition lasted a couple more years causing two additional train wrecks. In addition, by forcing Morrison Grain to demolish the buildings BNSF circumvented all its own safety rules. BNSF had safety rules that required trains to stop or slow while proceeding through construction zones. Under BNSF rules its train crews should have had direct communications with a BNSF employee in charge at the construction site. None of these rules were followed by BNSF and a BNSF train ran at maximum train speed through the construction zone striking Mr. Knights vehicle. Mr. Knight was in the process of transporting a heavy piece of equipment being used for the demolition process.
The jury found BNSF liable for negligence and also reckless indifference to the safety of others. The jury found that BNSF was 70% at fault and Mr. Knight 30% at fault. The award of damages was $9 million, which after reduction of Mr. Knight’s 30% fault amounted to a net verdict of $6.3 million. There was a second phase of trial for punitive damages in which the jury reaffirmed BNSF’s reckless disregard for the safety of others. After determining that BNSF was liable for punitive conduct the jury decided not to add any addition money damages to the verdict.