Four Awarded $1.86M in Derailment Damages

Used with permission of The Associated Press Copyright © 2006.  All rights reserved. 

Note:  Daniel O'Fallon, who represented the plaintiffs in this case is now a judge in the 10th Judicial District.  Philip Sieff, Partner, continues to handle significant cases like this.

(AP) Minneapolis Canadian Pacific Railway must pay four people nearly $1.86 million for injuries they suffered as a result of a 2002 derailment near Minot, N.D., that spilled a cloud of anhydrous ammonia, a jury here decided Wednesday.

The railroad had admitted it was at fault for the derailment, so the jury of 11 men and women was responsible for deciding how much money each plaintiff would receive.

Jodi Schulz, 47, who claimed she has suffered from asthma and other respiratory problems since the derailment was awarded $938,482 for past and future losses. She had been seeking more than $1.24 million to cover medical expenses and emotional pain and suffering.

Jeanette Klier, 51, who claimed she has suffered dry eyes, was seeking nearly $360,000 but got $300,191.

Melissa Allende, 37, claimed she suffered from asthma, dry eyes and post traumatic stress disorder. She was awarded $450,872, compared with the $705,000 she sought.

Her husband, Richard Allende, 37, who also claimed to suffer from dry eyes and some emotional issues, was seeking more than $250,000. He got $168,071.

All told, the plaintiffs in the case sought about $2.65 million. The railroad had offered them about $120,000 -- $50,000 each for Schulz and Melissa Allende and $10,000 each for Klier and Richard Allende.

The trial was held in Minneapolis, where Canadian Pacific Railway has its U.S. headquarters. The railroad is based in Calgary, Alberta.

"The Canadian Pacific Railroad stood in this court and said they were ready to accept responsibility. The question now is whether they will accept that responsibility or do everything in their power to delay payment," Dan O'Fallon, an attorney for the Allendes, said after the decision was announced.

Gordon Rudd, an attorney for Klier and Schulz, also expressed satisfaction with the jury's decision.

"After four long years the railroad has been held responsible for the harm they caused the city of Minot, North Dakota," he said.

Tim Thornton, an attorney for the railroad, declined to comment after the awards were announced. But the railroad had contended the plaintiffs were seeking too much.

"The railroad does not dispute that that night was a horrific night," Thornton said during his closing argument Friday. "It should not be a lottery ticket."

Jurors received the case at the end of the day Friday and began deliberations Monday morning, reaching their decision around midday Wednesday. The trial lasted about three weeks.

Thirty-one cars in the Canadian Pacific train went off the tracks in January 2002 on Minot's western edge. Five tank cars ruptured, releasing almost 221,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia, a common farm fertilizer.

One man was killed and hundreds of people reported injuries ranging from burns to breathing problems from the chemical cloud that hung over the city.

More than 100 claims were filed against the railroad. Six cases were settled out of court earlier, including a wrongful death lawsuit by the widow of John Grabinger, 38, who died while trying to escape the toxic cloud.