BNSF Railway Linked to Two Asbestos-Related Fatalities in Montana

A recent federal jury ruling has shed light on the enduring consequences of asbestos exposure in the small town of Libby, Montana, as BNSF Railway has been found partially responsible for the deaths of two individuals who were exposed to asbestos decades ago. The jury’s decision, handed down after careful consideration, awarded $4 million each in compensatory damages to the estates of the deceased plaintiffs, who tragically succumbed to asbestos-related illnesses in 2020.

The case centered around the transportation of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite through Libby’s rail yard, a practice that occurred during the operations of the W.R. Grace & Co. vermiculite mine, which shut down in 1990. Despite BNSF’s acquisition by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in 2010, the legal proceedings have delved into the railway’s historical involvement in Libby’s asbestos contamination.

The families of the victims were visibly emotional upon hearing the verdict, with one member expressing the sentiment that no amount of financial compensation could ever replace their lost loved one. Indeed, the human toll of asbestos-related illnesses cannot be understated, as highlighted by the devastating impact felt by families and communities alike.

While the jury did not find evidence of intentional or indifferent actions by BNSF, it nevertheless held the railway accountable for its role in the plaintiffs’ illnesses and subsequent deaths. This landmark ruling marks the first of many lawsuits against BNSF related to its operations in Libby, signaling a pivotal moment in the quest for justice and accountability.

Despite arguments from BNSF’s legal team asserting that the railway was unaware of the health hazards associated with the vermiculite shipments, plaintiffs’ attorneys countered with evidence suggesting otherwise. They argued that BNSF had failed to take appropriate action despite being aware of the dangers posed by the contaminated material, thereby contributing to the plaintiffs’ untimely deaths.

Throughout the trial, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris reiterated the distinction between BNSF’s conduct and the separate liability of W.R. Grace & Co., which played a central role in Libby’s contamination. The judge’s guidance underscored the complexities of the case and the need for a focused examination of BNSF’s actions within the context of the Libby Railyard.

The legal proceedings have brought renewed attention to the ongoing repercussions of asbestos exposure in Libby, with health officials warning that affected individuals are likely to continue experiencing illnesses for years to come. The Environmental Protection Agency’s involvement in the aftermath of the contamination, including the declaration of a public health emergency in 2009, further highlights the gravity of the situation.

As the legal saga unfolds, residents of Libby remain steadfast in their pursuit of justice and accountability for the devastating impact of asbestos exposure on their community. With additional trials against BNSF scheduled in the coming months, the quest for truth and restitution continues, offering hope for a resolution that honors the memory of those affected by this tragic chapter in Libby’s history.

By: Montana Newsroom staff