Family of Georgia Couple Sues Amtrak for Justice and Calls for Safety Overhaul


Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky Filed Lawsuit Today In Illinois Federal Court

Chicago, IL (February 21, 2022) – The family of Amtrak passengers Donald Varnadoe, 74, and Marjorie Varnadoe, 72, who were on their 50th wedding anniversary “trip of a lifetime”, filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit today alleging that Amtrak and track owner BNSF were responsible for the lethal derailment last fall near Joplin, Montana. The complaint was filed by Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, P.C., which also represents the family of Zach Schneider who was killed as a result of the September 25, 2021 derailment of Amtrak’s Empire Builder train that was traveling along a scenic route from Chicago to Seattle. 

Donald and Marjorie Vernadoe

Donald and Marjorie Vernadoe

Jason Varnadoe, the couple’s son and administrator of their estates, said, “Mom and dad passionately believed in doing good for others – dad was famously known for always asking folks, ‘How can I help?’. Mom and dad deeply loved one another and our family and loved making a difference through their service in the church, around the St. Simons Island community, and in their remarkable careers; dad in real estate and mom as an educator. We know they’d want their memory to serve a positive purpose, and our hope is that through this tragedy, lessons are learned and America’s rails become safer so that other families are spared our unimaginable pain and suffering.”

Robert J. Mongeluzzi, who heads SMB’s catastrophic railroad accident practice, said after the filing (Varnadoe v. Amtrak and BNSF, Case No.: 1:22-cv-00925), “Still reeling from the loss of incredible parents, loving grandparents, deeply religious, compassionate and charitable pillars of their close-knit St. Simons Island community, the Varnadoe family has asked us to do everything possible to hold those responsible for Don and Margie’s deaths fully accountable, and continue to forcefully advocate for life-saving improvements along the entire Amtrak system. They fear that unless there’s meaningful reform – not lip service – and strict oversight, it’s inevitable that tickets to ride Amtrak will end in more and more senseless passenger injuries and deaths.”

Jeffrey P. Goodman, of Philadelphia-based SMB, said the filing sharpens the focus on a litany of operational shortcomings, including failures to identify track buckling as a significant contributing factor to the derailment. “Amtrak and BNSF should have ensured adequate safety and maintenance measures were in place to prevent track buckling and identify all potential track issues that could lead to tragedy.  This location has an over 40-year history of derailments, tragically, Amtrak and BNSF failed to learn from lessons of the past and the Varnadoes are determined to ensure they do not make that mistake in the future.”  

Joining Mr. Mongeluzzi and Mr. Goodman on the plaintiffs’ legal team are SMB attorney Samuel B. Dordick, and trial lawyers Mark A. DiCello and Adam J. Levitt from Chicago-based DiCello Levitt Gutzler LLC.

SMB is one of America’s leading law firms representing victims of catastrophic injuries and loss of life. Trial attorneys Mongeluzzi and Goodman were part of the Plaintiffs leadership team in the Amtrak 188 derailment in Philadelphia, and other Amtrak fatal accidents in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and the 2016 New Jersey Transit (NJT) fatal crash in Hoboken, NJ. They have consistently advocated for the mandatory use of advanced railroad safety technology, including Positive Train Control (PTC), which provides for automatic braking and switching systems. 

NOTE: Respecting the privacy of Varnadoe family, counsel respectfully requests that all interview requests be directed to the legal team (contact information is below).


Robert J. Mongeluzzi / / 215-850-6571
Jeffrey P. Goodman / / 215-840-6450
Steph Rosenfeld / / 215-514-4101

Related Practice Areas

Ready for a free confidential case evaluation?

Contact us TODAY. Timing is critical for your case.