BNSF Railway Denies Liability for Lung Cancer Deaths in Asbestos-Contaminated Libby, Montana

BNSF Railway faces lawsuits over asbestos-related deaths in Libby, Montana, as it claims ignorance of the dangers. The trial's outcome could set a precedent for future cases and highlight the ongoing health impacts of past industrial practices.

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BNSF Railway Denies Liability for Lung Cancer Deaths in Asbestos-Contaminated Libby, Montana

BNSF Railway Denies Liability for Lung Cancer Deaths in Asbestos-Contaminated Libby, Montana

BNSF Railway is currently arguing in a Montana federal court that it should not be held liable for the lung cancer deaths of two former residents of Libby, Montana, an asbestos-contaminated town and one of the deadliest Superfund sites in the United States. The railroad's attorneys claim that its corporate predecessors were unaware that the vermiculite they hauled from a nearby mine for decades was filled with hazardous asbestos fibers.

This case is the first of numerous lawsuits against BNSF over its past operations in Libby, where health officials say asbestos exposure has killed several hundred people and sickened thousands. The plaintiffs argue that BNSF should have known about the dangers because the mine operator, W.R. Grace, had put warning labels on the rail cars. BNSF also allegedly attended conferences in the 1930s that discussed dust diseases like asbestosis.

Why this matters: The outcome of this trial could establish a precedent for future lawsuits against companies involved in asbestos contamination and potentially lead to increased protections for affected communities. It also highlights the ongoing health impacts of past industrial practices and the challenges in holding corporations accountable for environmental and public health damages.

The judge has rejected BNSF's requests for verdicts in its favor, citing evidence that the railroad's actions in maintaining an asbestos-contaminated railyard fell outside legal protections for common carriers of goods. W.R. Grace, the chemical company that operated the vermiculite mine, has played a central role in Libby's tragedy and has paid significant settlements to victims. However, its liability is not the focus of the current trial.

Former BNSF workers testified that they were unaware of the risks associated with asbestos exposure, while the plaintiffs argue that the company should have been aware of the dangers. The Environmental Protection Agency declared a public health emergency in Libby in 2009, and cleanup efforts have been ongoing. Family members of the deceased plaintiffs testified that their loved ones succumbed to mesothelioma shortly after diagnosis, attributing their illnesses to dust from the rail yard.

The jury is currently deliberating on the case and is expected to decide on BNSF's fault and any damages to be awarded. While the Libby Superfund site has been largely cleaned up at public expense, the long latency period of asbestos-related diseases means that people previously exposed are likely to continue getting sick and dying for years to come. The outcome of this landmark trial could have far-

Key Takeaways

  • BNSF Railway argues it's not liable for asbestos-related deaths in Libby, MT
  • Plaintiffs claim BNSF knew about asbestos dangers from mine operator's warning labels
  • Judge rejects BNSF's requests, citing evidence of maintaining asbestos-contaminated railyard
  • Outcome could set precedent for future asbestos contamination lawsuits
  • Libby Superfund site cleanup ongoing, but asbestos-related illnesses persist