BNSF Railway, Owned By Warren Buffett, Begins Its Defense In Asbestos Deaths Lawsuit

( — On the final day of plaintiff testimony, the jury in the wrongful death lawsuit against BNSF Railway on Monday viewed portions of the video deposition of the late Thomas Wells, one of two people whose estates are seeking damages from the rail company, the Associated Press reported.

BNSF was sued in 2021 by the estates of Thomas Wells and Joyce Walder, whose deaths from mesothelioma are being blamed on the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite the railway hauled from a mine near the Montana town of Libby for decades.

Wells was diagnosed in late 2019 with mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer that has been linked to asbestos exposure. In his video deposition recorded in March 2020, Wells said he was in “great pain” and that his condition was “getting worse.”

The day after his deposition, Wells died at the age of 65.

BNSF, which is now owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, hauled vermiculite from the W.R. Grace & Co. mine outside of Libby for most of the last century, exposing thousands of people to toxic asbestos dust.

The EPA declared a public health emergency in Libby in 2009 and a clean-up was ordered for the contaminated railyard in town. The clean-up was largely complete by 2022.

Health officials said that over 3,000 people got sick due to the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite stored at the Libby railyard and several hundred died.

The trial, which began on April 5 in the US District Court for the District of Montana, addresses the question of what the rail company knew at the time about the hazards associated with asbestos and if it should be liable for exposing the residents of Libby to the toxic material.

BNSF’s attorneys, who argue that railroad officials were not aware the shipments were hazardous, began their defense on Tuesday.

In his video deposition, Wells said he worked in the Libby area in the late 1970s and again in 1981 when he was with the US Forest Service. He described the dust that would get stirred up near the railyard.

Joyce Walder, who died of mesothelioma in 2020 at the age of 66, grew up in Libby and played in the railyard as a child.

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