BNSF says civil suit over Casselton derailment should be delayed until NTSB issues findings

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A civil lawsuit against BNSF by an engineer who was at the helm during a train derailment near Casselton nearly two years ago should be put on hold until it can be determined whether a broken axel was the cause of the fiery crash, a lawyer for the railway said Monday.

The suit by Bryan Thompson of Fargo accuses BNSF of negligence and says the railway failed to properly inspect and maintain its equipment and failed to warn him of the dangers of hauling explosive oil tank railcars. Thompson says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and isn't capable of returning to work.

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BNSF lawyer Timothy Thornton asked Judge Norman Anderson during a hearing Monday to delay the proceedings until the National Transportation Safety Board comes out with detailed findings on the crash. Without that information, Thornton said, BNSF officials won't be able to testify completely and will have "at least one hand tied behind their backs and maybe two hands."

The broken axel wasn't pinpointed as the cause of the crash, but the NTSB said the derailment might have been prevented if BNSF railroad had inspected it more carefully and found a pre-existing flaw. The final report isn't due for at least six months.

Thompson's lawyers say a delay would be "an economic hardship" for their client, who is undergoing counseling and taking classes at NDSU to become a teacher. It's also important to start analyzing evidence in the case and lining up witnesses, attorney Richard Carlson said.

"We're coming up on the two-year anniversary to the incident. With each delay, you have fading memories," Carlson said.

The accident about 30 miles west of Fargo happened when a train carrying soybeans derailed in front of Thompson's train, causing the oil tanker train to also derail and set off a fire that could be seen from nearly 10 miles away. The crash spilled about 400,000 gallons of crude oil, which took several weeks to clean up. No injuries were reported.

Another of Thompson's lawyers, Tom Flaskamp, has said Thompson suffered "severe and permanent injuries" and was lucky he wasn't "incinerated out there."

Anderson, the judge, said he's inclined to rule against the delay but wanted to review the arguments before issuing his opinion.