Trial Starts Against Warren Bufett’s BNSF Railway Over Asbestos Deaths

The trial in a civil lawsuit brought against BNSF Railway on behalf of two individuals who died of lung cancer began in a Montana federal courtroom on April 5, the Associated Press reported.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that the railroad, currently owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, should be held responsible for the release of toxic asbestos dust in the small town of Libby along the Canadian border in Montana.

BNSF hauled asbestos-laden vermiculite from a mine nearby through the town of Libby for decades. As a result, thousands of people in the small town were exposed to the toxic dust.

What SNSF knew about the hazards associated with the material will be central to the weekslong trial that began in the US District Court for the District of Montana on Monday.

Attorneys representing the railroad contend that BNSF had been repeatedly told that the vermiculite shipped through Libby was safe.

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency declared a public health emergency in Libby, which is considered one of the deadliest locations under the Superfund cleanup program.

Health officials say the contaminated vermiculite produced at the W.R. Grace & Co. mine outside of Libby resulted in more than 3,000 people getting sick and several hundred dying.

While the pollution has been mostly cleaned up, the long latency period of diseases related to asbestos exposure means that many have continued to develop lung problems.

In 2021, the estates of two people, Oregon resident Thomas Wells and California resident Joyce Walder, filed a wrongful death suit against BNSF arguing that the railroad stored the vermiculite in a rail yard located in Libby before shipping it throughout the United States.

Attorney Mark Lanier told the jury that BNSF exposed the residents of Libby “to wind-born asbestos contamination.”

Chad Knight, BNSF’s attorney, said that by law, the railroad was required to accept shipments of vermiculite and had been repeatedly informed by the mining company that the material was safe. Knight insisted that it was the responsibility of W.R. Grace & Co. to inform BNSF if the shipments were hazardous.

The trial before US District Judge Brian Morris is expected to last through the end of April.