Missourians need to be able to hold corporations accountable for their actions

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway has hundreds of miles of track running through Missouri. Throughout the last 100 years, BNSF has raised their track embankment higher and higher without creating additional drainage or addressing potential problems that could arise from the changes. 

In 2011, a large flood covered much of Northwest and Central Missouri causing a BNSF embankment to collapse and damage the land of local farmer Tom Tubbs. 

Tubbs shared his story with the St. Joseph News-Press

“We spent 88 days boating in and out to the house, which was on high ground,” said Tom Tubbs, a Holt County farmer. “But it was two years and a lot of work before we could plant most of that ground.”

During the 2011 flood, attorneys said the lack of drainage caused the embankment to develop a massive 900-foot breach at the location of the Tubbs’ farm, resulting in a torrent of floodwater being channeled through the breach.

The Tubbs’ farm sustained numerous scour holes 30 to 60 feet deep and sand deposits as deep as 8 feet.

“We still have some new farm ponds and sand on some acreage,” Tubbs said. “Some of what was once prime river bottom farm land won’t ever be planted again.”

BNSF knew the drainage under its embankment was inadequate and that ten times the amount of drainage was needed to prevent damage to the Tubbs’ land. Despite knowing that, BNSF just kept raising the track embankment and creating more of a dam without additional drainage.

Current laws in Missouri allow Tubbs and his family to take legal action against BNSF and sue for both actual and punitive damages. 

But now, some Missouri lawmakers are trying to change that law.   

SB 591 turns an important protection for families and property owners – punitive damages – into Swiss cheese. It would put so many holes in the law it would be virtually impossible to hold companies accountable and require them to prioritize safety.

Under the proposed changes in SB 591: 

  • You would have to prove a company “intentionally” harmed you – a very difficult thing to do in court.
  • Employers could blame their employees for the damage, using loopholes to shield themselves from the employees and managers actions.
  • The jury who heard the case would no longer decide if punitive damages should be considered – now the court would decide.
  • If the same conduct was brought before a jury in another state in another similar case, a credit for previously awarded punitive damages will be applied.  

Missourians need to be able to hold corporations accountable for their actions. Tell the Missouri Legislature to vote NO on SB591.