Canadian Pacific takes Quebec train disaster cases from Cook County to federal court

By Jonathan Bilyk | Oct 2, 2015

Families of victims of a fiery oil-fueled train derailment and explosion that claimed 47 lives in a town on the eastern edge of Canada’s Quebec Province will need to press their wrongful death claims in federal court, after lawyers for Canadian Pacific Railway and other corporate defendants asked to transfer cases from local to federal jurisdiction.

On Oct. 1 and Oct. 2, attorney James A. Fletcher, of the firm of Fletcher & Sippel LLC, of Chicago, together with Timothy R. Thornton and Leah Ceee O. Boomsma, of the firm of Briggs and Morgan P.A., of Minneapolis, filed notices in federal court in Chicago to remove the cases from Cook County Circuit Court.

The lawsuits were brought by attorneys with the firms of Meyer & Flowers, of suburban St. Charles, and the Webster Law Firm, of Houston, in Cook County earlier this year as part of a flurry of U.S. litigation regarding the rail disaster in the town of Lac-Megantic.

The cases center on the train derailment on July 6, 2013, in the town just over the border between the U.S. State of Maine and Quebec.

On that evening, a train carrying 72 cars loaded with crude oil being transported from the Bakken formation oil-producing region in North Dakota to the city of St. John in New Brunswick, Canada. Left overnight outside Lac-Megantic, the tanker cars somehow rolled downhill into the town, where they derailed, ruptured and exploded. The resulting fireballs and destruction killed 47 people, while causing extensive damage to the town.

The resulting lawsuits named more than 50 defendants, including Canadian Pacific Railway, which is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with U.S. offices in Minneapolis, and dozens of other companies involved in the production, distribution and transportation by rail of the crude oil.

The list of defendants include several Chicago area businesses, including Rail World Inc., of Rosemont; Union Tank Car Company, of Chicago; First Union Rail Corporation, of Chicago; and GE Rail.

The plaintiffs also noted the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) operates trains through Illinois and Chicago. The train which derailed also was routed through the Chicago area between June 29 and July 6, 2013, the plaintiffs’ complaints stated.

Each of the complaints from the families of the victims include counts of wrongful death and negligence against each of the defendants. The families of the victims asked the court to award them more than $1 million each.

In its removal notices, CP said it was never served notice of the legal actions filed this summer. Rather, the railway’s attorneys said plaintiffs moved to voluntarily dismiss the cases, with leave to refile in a year.

However, CP said plaintiffs’ attorneys sent them copies of the litigation in early September, followed by a motion to stay to extend the case about 11 days later.

CP said it responded with the removal actions out of “uncertainty” regarding the “status of the case” and “out of an abundance of caution.”

At the same time, CP noted many of the defendants named in the 35 cases are also dealing with 19 other cases filed by others involved in the rail disaster. Those cases, dating from 2013, have been relocated to federal court in Maine, where Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Inc., the company which owned the rail line on which the Lac-Megantic disaster occurred, is in bankruptcy proceedings.

CP argued the newer cases should be subject to federal jurisdiction, as well, as they, like the 19 related cases now pending in Maine federal court, are related to the MMA bankruptcy proceedings.

Rail World is represented in the action by the firm of Dentons US, of Chicago.

GE Rail is represented by Sidley Austin, of Chicago.

Union Tank Car is represented by Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey, of Waterbury, Conn.

First Union Rail is represented by Moore & Van Allen, of Charlotte, N.C.

Lawyers for other defendants include those of the Cope Law Firm, of Portland, Maine; Johanson & Fairless, of Sugar Land, Texas; Clausen Miller, of Chicago; King & Spalding, of Houston; Drummond Woodsum, of Portland, Maine; Locke Lord, of Chicago; Reed Smith, of Houston; Baker Botts, of Houston; Andrews Kurth, of Houston; Foran Glennon, of Chicago; Kirkland & Ellis, of Chicago; Vinson & Elkins, of Houston; and McDermott Will & Emery, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Andrews Kurth LLP Baker Botts - Houston Briggs and Morgan Canadian Pacific Railway Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey Clausen Miller PC Cope Law Firm Dentons - Chicago First Union Rail Fletcher & Sippel LLC Foran Glennon Palandech Ponzi & Rudloff PC Johanson & Fairless LLP King & Spalding LLP Kirkland & Ellis LLP Locke Lord LLP McDermott, Will & Emery LLP Meyer & Flowers Moore & Van Allen Rail World Inc. Reed Smith LLP Sidley Austin LLP The Webster Law Firm Union Tank Car Company Vinson and Elkins LLP

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