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Engineer of oil tanker in fiery Casselton crash sues railroad

The charred remains of railroad cars after an oil tanker train derailed and exploded Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, west of Casselton, N.D. The cars have been moved from the site of the crash to a nearby field.Dave Wallis / The Forum

The engineer of an oil tanker train that exploded after derailing near Casselton in 2013 is suing the railroad, claiming its negligence caused the fiery wreck that has left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

Bryan Thompson of Fargo was operating the oil tanker train when an oncoming grain train derailed in his path just west of Casselton on Dec. 30, 2013, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cass County District Court.

Thompson couldn’t stop the oil tanker train in time. It hit the grain train and then itself derailed.

“Behind him, tank cars were starting to derail, catch fire and explode,” said Thomas Flaskamp, the lawyers for Thompson.

The train engineer had to “run for his life” to escape the explosions, his lawyer said.

No one was physically injured in the derailment or subsequent fire, BNSF Railway said at the time.

But the lawsuit claims Thompson “was caused to suffer severe and permanent injuries and damages,” which Flaskamp said were caused by PTSD.

Thompson, who’s in his 30s, can no longer work as a train engineer and is pursuing education to become a teacher in Fargo, Flaskamp said Tuesday.

His client “had a long career at the railroad to go,” Flaskamp said.

A dollar value for damages to Thompson isn’t stated in the lawsuit, but Flaskamp said his client plans to ask a jury for past and future wage and medical losses, as well as pain and suffering.

BNSF spokesperson Amy McBeth said the railroad had no comment on the lawsuit.

A lawyer representing the railroad in the lawsuit did not return a message Tuesday, and BNSF hasn’t responded in court filings to the lawsuit’s complaint.

Thompson’s lawsuit accuses BNSF of failing to warn him of the dangers of hauling the oil tank railcars and their tendency to rupture and explode. It also claims the railroad was using a car that was in a defective condition.  

The derailment and explosions came just months after 47 people were killed by a derailment in Quebec, when 72 tank cars carrying North Dakota crude rolled driverless down a hill into the center of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and exploded.

Those wrecks and others put renewed focus on the risks of transporting crude oil by train from the North Dakota Oil Patch, including long-known weaknesses in the main type of tank cars used in hauling crude oil by rail. That type of tank car was used in the Casselton and Quebec derailments.

Thompson claims in the lawsuit that BNSF failed to properly inspect, maintain and repair its equipment, including its track.

Five derailments have occurred on BNSF lines within a few miles west of Casselton in the past decade, with the fifth occurring in November.

The lawsuit also alleges BNSF didn’t adopt safe methods of transporting the oil tank cars, and that BNSF violated federal regulations in its operations.

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