BNSF Sued by Landowners for Soil Contamination and Decreased Property Values in Iowa

Written by Jennifer McLawhorn, Managing Editor
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SIOUX CITY, Iowa – The Kooimas, landowners in Iowa, are suing BNSF after a 2018 derailment near their property.

After a 2018 train derailment in Iowa, nearby landowners are “seeking damages” from BNSF for the oil cleanup and subsequent lowered property values “they say were caused by oil and contaminants that remain in the soil,” according to the Sioux City Journal.

In a lawsuit filed this past June, John, Helen, Philip, and Kristi Kooimas from Rock Valley are suing for negligence and have requested a “jury trial and [are] asking for punitive damages.” The Kooimas also allege that their property suffered damages that are “severe, permanent, and disabling” and that they will need to continue spending to fix the damage done to the environment.

The lawsuit was then moved to the U.S. District Court earlier this month. The lawsuit alleges that BNSF knew the area was flooded from heavy rainfall a few days prior to the derailment and that it was “negligent in failing to inspect, maintain, and repair its track.” The heavy rain caused the ground to flood and lead to the train derailment in which 160,000 gallons of oil were spilled. 

Even though the spilled oil was mostly contained, “floodwaters washed through the oil and into the Rock River, Little Rock River, and Burr Oak Creek. . . [and] led to the evacuation of at least 12 people.” It also travelled downstream and caused the drinking wells to close. To combat this, officials constructed a berm “around the derailed cars to keep leaking oil from entering the floodplain and contaminated topsoil also was replaced.”

A federal investigation found that the train was travelling just below the maximum speed (at 48mph) when the derailment occurred. BNSF agreed to settle and pay more than $1.5 million to the EPA for violating the Clean Water Act in December 2021.

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