BNSF fined $10 million for falsifying evidence; ruling overturned

A judge who fined Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. $10 million for presenting what he called "false, concocted" evidence in a wrongful death trial threw out the penalty and removed himself from the case on March 26, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Texas State District Judge Bob McGrath said his sanctions were premature because they were announced without a hearing.

McGrath imposed the fine on March 14 after concluding that BNSF misrepresented a distant signal that was shown to the jury.

The family of BNSF engineer Randy Mann sued the railroad after he died in the February 1993 collision of two trains in Enid, Okla. Mann's family contends that he operated past a broken signal on a foggy night, leading to the fatal collision.

The railroad says the broken signal was too far away to have caused the wreck.

In addition to the $10 million fine, McGrath ordered BNSF to pay $210,000 for the plaintiffs' court costs and attorney fees and fined railroad attorney Doug Poole $10,000 for saying that the company did nothing wrong.

The March 26 order, however, canceled the disciplinary action against attorneys.

The attorney for Mann's family said they won't give up. "We're not going to let the railroad off the hook."

The case was not immediately reassigned. It was unclear when a new trial will begin.

The disputed evidence is a dark wooden post with a metal signal box attached near the top.

Judge McGrath said that the exhibit the railroad presented in court was not typical of the original signal, that the company put it together from separate pieces without telling the court and that a company official wiped a shiny surface clean before the jury saw the evidence.

The railroad maintains that it neither fabricated nor tampered with evidence.

Intentionally tampering with or fabricating physical evidence is a crime.

The $10 million was to have been split evenly between Mann's family and the Texas Center for Legal Ethics.


© 2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers