» Dispute Over Venue for Lac-Megantic Wrongful Death Claims Heats Up

Dispute Over Venue for Lac-Megantic Wrongful Death Claims Heats Up

Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) May 14, 2014 – A federal judge in Portland, Maine recently heard arguments on whether Illinois or Maine will be the proper jurisdiction for a recent, tragic wrongful death case.

Nineteen wrongful death claims have risen from the July 2013 derailment of a Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) Railway train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. The accident resulted in at least 42 deaths.

The trustee overseeing MMA during bankruptcy proceedings moved to transfer the wrongful death cases to Maine. The company hopes to consolidate actions associated with its bankruptcy. 

Attorneys representing the victims' families opposed the motion, in part because Maine has a $500,000 cap on wrongful death damages. Illinois has no such cap.

The wrongful death claims were filed in Illinois, where RailWorld Inc., the company that owned MMA, is based. In some of the suits, MMA was initially named as a defendant, but it was later dropped because bankruptcy law dictates that wrongful death claims associated with a company filing for bankruptcy be handled in the district court where the bankruptcy is handled.

“The dispute over the venue for these cases is not surprising, as so much is at stake,” says Paul Greenberg, a Chicago wrongful death attorney not involved in the case.

Attorneys for the victims' families argued that, because MMA was dropped as a defendant, the lawsuits would not affect MMA's bankruptcy. The trustee for MMA argued that case law supported his position that the wrongful death claims were still related to the bankruptcy and could have an effect on it. By his reasoning, they should be heard in the same district court where the bankruptcy is being handled.

A firm that represents some of the plaintiffs has proposed that former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell oversee the allocation of available funds from the MMA bankruptcy to the victims' families. MMA's trustee characterized the proposal as a tactic by plaintiffs' attorneys to keep the cases in Illinois with oversight by the former Maine senator.

Fortress Investment Group, a New York investment firm, purchased MMA's assets for $15.85 million at a bankruptcy auction. However, the company's creditors claims they are owed $40 million. Even that figure does not include the wrongful death claims, which are estimated to total approximately $50 million.

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