Robert L. Pottroff

Manhattan, Kansas
Founding Attorney, Deceased
Phone (785) 539-4656
Fax (785) 539-1750

Professional Information

Robert L. Pottroff is the founding partner of Pottroff & Karlin, LLC, in Manhattan, Kansas, where he practiced law from 1979-2019. Though he was well qualified to practice law in many fields, Mr. Pottroff chose to limit his practice to railroad law. His leadership and perseverance over the last two decades has had an immeasurable impact on railroad safety in the United States.

Mr. Pottroff was an outspoken advocate for the rights of victims and a proponent of railroad safety. Throughout his career he had been invited to speak throughout the U.S. and internationally. Mr. Pottroff was an active member of the American Association for Justice and the Kansas Association for Justice. He was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers and recognized in Super Lawyers magazine for his excellence in litigation. Mr. Pottroff’s involvement in railroad litigation dated back to the 1980s, but space does not permit an exhaustive account of all his contributions in this area of law. Since the millennium alone, his accomplishments are unparalleled.

Mr. Pottroff was invited to participate in the Shanklin v. Norfolk Southern case, which was case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. In January 2000, he filed an Amicus Curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of victims from all across the United States. Subsequently, in March 2000, Mr. Pottroff appeared on CNN in a Charles Bierbauer interview, Railroad Safety at a Crossroads. Later that year, at the International Symposium on Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Research and Safety, he warned states of their accountability for public safety in his presentation entitled, States Beware: Shanklin Places Responsibility on You. In that same year, Mr. Pottroff organized the National Railroad Safety Coalition by bringing together victims of railroad accidents and transforming them into a survivors network with a unified voice promoting rail safety.

In 2001, Mr. Pottroff was appointed to chair the Railroad Legislative Action Committee for the American Association for Justice. In that role, he drafted model legislation and began a long term commitment to fight for legislative change on a national level. Mr. Pottroff had previously drafted the “Rail Crossing Safety Plan 2000” and submitted it to the Federal Railroad Administration for consideration. The ideas in that plan needed a concerted effort if they were going to ever become law. One of the first areas of focus was railcar reflectorization. Years of work on that issue ultimately resulted in regulations that forced railroads to reflectorize their rolling stock. Prior to these standards being adopted black tanker cars sitting on crossings at night created invisible hazards that claimed numerous lives.

Railroad News
November 29, 2023

California Pedestrian Killed by Amtrak Train on BNSF Tracks

November 27, 2023

Six Amtrak Passengers Injured and Derailment Ensues After Failure to Notify Amtrak Trains of Vehicle Stuck on the Tracks


Train crash cases are unique and complex with many different potential pitfalls, such as federal preemption. Anytime I get hired or even get a call from a train crash victim, my very first call is to Nathan’s firm. Nathan’s knowledge and experience in handling and trying cases against these litigation savvy railroad companies gives me the confidence to know that the clients and cases I refer to him are getting the best of the best.

James PerrinLubbock, Texas

I have had the opportunity to work as co-counsel with Nathan on several railroad crossing accidents cases. In each case, Nathan always possessed an incredible knowledge of the law and the facts, possessed a great talent for aggressive - strategic legal planning and trial tactics while, at the same time, displaying great skill as an effective negotiator. I would recommend him to anyone without hesitation.

Scott McCluenHarriman, Tennessee

Nathan Karlin has my strongest endorsement in the field of railroad crossing cases and personal injury law. I had the pleasure of working with Nathan in a complex railroad personal injury case. I was impressed by Nathan’s knowledge, his work ethic, and his dedication to the client. I look forward to working with Nathan on future injury matters. I am also aware firsthand that he has obtained excellent trial and settlement results in numerous cases involving members of the public harmed by railroad companies.

Joseph M. MillerMandeville, Louisiana

Nathan is a warrior fighting the railroads. As a fellow personal injury lawyer, I have constantly been impressed with his depth of knowledge and his capabilities from case to case. I’d take him into battle with me any day against the biggest railroads and insurance companies on the planet.

Jon C. ClarkAustin, Texas

Bob Pottroff has fought for the victims of the railroads’ callous disregard for safety more than any other attorney that I know. I should know because I am currently Chair-elect of the Railroad Section of ATLA.

Robert SchuetzeBoulder, Colorado

Mr. Pottroff has shaken the rail industry to its very roots. Settlements are now more common as a result of the way he has exposed the industry’s wrongdoing.

Mike EasleyArkansas

Bob Pottroff’s work in railroad safety law is unmatched and he has been the source of great advice and phenomenal creativity.

Roger BrownJefferson City, Missouri

In addition to his substantive contributions to railroad grade crossing safety, I have personally observed his untiring efforts and contributions to improving the integrity of the legal system.

Elizabeth HardyLake Charles, Louisiana

During 2001 and 2002, Mr. Pottroff took aim at the railroad industry€’s long standing practice of systematically destroying evidence in accidents where members of the public suffered serious injuries or death. Three verdicts in the span of just over one year resulted in courts condemning this practice and juries awarding verdicts in excess of $40 Million: Stevenson v. Union Pacific Railroad ($2M); Barber v. Union Pacific Railroad ($30+M); and Morris v. Union Pacific Railroad ($8M). This series of cases caught the attention of Walt Bogdanich of the New York Times, who was doing research for a series of stories on railroad safety. The series ultimately won Walt Bogdanich the Pulitzer Prize and Mr. Pottroff the satisfaction of knowing his work in the courtroom and with Mr. Bogdanich would bring about change in the railroad industry.

In 2003, Lewis Laska, publisher and editor of the FELA Reporter and Railroad Liability Monitor, wrote that “[Mr. Pottroff] is simply the best railroad crossing lawyer in the United States.”  In a 2004 brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, the Union Pacific Railroad advised that Mr. Pottroff’s verdict against the Union Pacific in Barber v. UPRR “is by far the largest punitive damages award ever upheld by an American court in a railroad grade crossing case.”  In late 2004, the New York Times and The Discovery Channel jointly ventured a one-hour documentary titled “Trouble on the Tracks.”  This documentary featured Mr. Pottroff in his battle for public safety at railroad crossings. In 2005, Mr. Pottroff was presented the Consumer Advocate Award for the landmark case of Ryan v. Koehler International, Inc.

Mr. Pottroff’s article “Perilous Crossings” was published in Trial Magazine in April 2006.  The article examines the need for attorneys to utilize both state laws and federal regulations to defend clients’ rights in railway crossing accident cases.  Throughout 2006 and 2007, Mr. Pottroff served as president of the Kansas Association for Justice.  In August 2007, Congress adopted and President Bush signed into law the 2007 Preemption Clarification Amendment.  Mr. Pottroff worked hard on this legislation that overturned cases which denied citizens their right to hold negligent railroads accountable for damages in court.

On June 13, 2008, an Anoka, Minnesota, jury handed down a $24 million verdict against the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.  Mr. Pottroff was brought into this case to represent the families of four young adults killed in a railroad accident. This record setting verdict was just the beginning of a legal saga that would follow over the next several years of post trial proceedings and appeals.

Following the tragic Chatsworth, CA, Metrolink 111 crash that killed 26 people and hospitalized over 140 others on September 12, 2008, Mr. Pottroff flew to Washington D.C. He met with Congressman James Oberstar, Chairman of the Transportation Committee, worked on extensive rail safety legislation.  In late 2008, Oberstar led the effort in the House to pass The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 and the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.  These Acts increased funding for Amtrak over the next five years and required new safety measures designed to reduce crashes through the use of technology and basic system safety principles.

On October 15, 2009, District Court Judge Ellen Maas of Anoka County, MN, issued orders imposing sanctions, fees and costs against the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad of approximately $4.5 million. The Court pointed out a “staggering” pattern of misconduct. The Court also recognized the effort of Bob Pottroff and his co-counsel in holding this railroad accountable for gross misconduct. The Court stated: “It was only through the dogged determination of Plaintiffs’ counsel and through their repeated and costly motions to compel discovery, that this Court began to see a pattern of behavior on the part of BNSF that raised serious questions about the intentions and veracity of BNSF regarding its handling of critical evidence in this case.” This extraordinary case has been well chronicled in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, up to and including the journey through the appellate courts that ultimately upheld the record setting verdict and sanctions.

In 2010 Mr. Pottroff joined forces with Mary Alexander of San Francisco to investigate an accident that claimed the life of 15-year-old Anthony Rea under circumstances that his young friends described as a signal failure. Caltrain and Amtrak denied the malfunction, blamed the victim and attempted to discredit the stories of his friends who saw the accident. Again, through sheer determination, Mr. Pottroff was able to uncover concealed evidence that established the truth about the fatal signal failure. This determined effort allowed the family to obtain the closure they so desperately needed.

In October and November of 2012, Mr. Pottroff was engaged in jury trial in Gaston County, NC. This trial involved the death of two women killed at a crossing with a long history of unresolved signal malfunctions. During the trial, Mr. Pottroff convinced the Court that evidence was being concealed and the Court ordered the Norfolk Southern Railroad corporate representative to turn over his laptop computer for forensic examination during trial. Thereafter, the railroad admitted that there was evidence on that computer which had been previously withheld. This evidence exposed the railroad’s cover-up. As Mr. Pottroff brought the railroad’s misconduct to light, the case immediately settled. Two more families obtained the closure they needed.

On November 15, 2012, the Hunt for Heroes Parade in Midland, Texas was struck by a Union Pacific Railroad train. This high profile case has shed light on serious problems with the deregulation of railroads. Prior to 2012 the Union Pacific Railroad and gradually increased its train speeds through Midland, Texas. Its self-imposed maximum speed limit of 79 mph was in open defiance of the city’s ordinance restricting train speeds to a maximum of 25 mph. During the same period of time the railroad also made an unauthorized reduction in the warning time that it’s signal system was supposed to provide. In addition to the intentional reduction of warning time by design, the railroad also installed defective circuits which caused the warning time to be reduced even further. The defective signal system was allowed to operate for seven years before this tragedy. After this disaster the railroad immediately denied the existence of the defect in its circuits, concealed evidence of signal malfunctions, provided false information to investigators and destroyed critical evidence. The federal regulators who investigated the crash allowed the railroad to do its own post-accident testing, excluded the veterans from participating the investigation and issued a report based upon false information that came directly from the Union Pacific Railroad.

After two years of intense litigation Pottroff and his team was able to uncover evidence that the railroad had known about the defective signals long before the crash and done nothing to fix the problem. In early 2015 all the claims made by clients of Mr. Pottroff were settled.

In August of 2015, Mr. Pottroff returned to Washington D.C. to testify before the Federal Railroad Administration a hearing on proposed regulations that would be needed to implement the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008. The railroad industry was pushing back against the basic safety requirements of the Rail Safety Improvement Act. The focus of his testimony was the need for transparency in the safety process and accountability in our civil justice system for safety violations that injure or kill members of the public.

In March of 2017, a CSX freight train hit a tour bus loaded with senior citizens in Biloxi, Mississippi. The bus had become hung up on the Main Street crossing in Biloxi. Victims from the crash and the City of Biloxi called upon Mr. Pottroff to hold the railroad accountable for the damages caused by this crash. The hump at the Main Street crossing had been raised incrementally over the years until it was eventually built up to about four feet higher than Main Street. Mr. Pottroff agreed to take on the railroad for its cost-cutting track maintenance practices that continually raise crossing surfaces. This is the same fight that he has made on behalf of trucking companies when their trucks get hung up on these crossings and hit by a train before they can get free.

Professional Goals

Robert L. Pottroff was a firm believer that trial lawyers have a unique opportunity to improve the world around us. His lectures often challenged trial lawyers to take this duty seriously. Lawyers are in a unique position to fight for public safety in all three branches of our government. They must take this duty seriously when fighting for public safety in our courts, in our legislatures and in the administration of laws by the executive branch.  His most gratifying work as a trial lawyer involved representing victims and fighting to protect their rights. Over the last three decades, he was engaged in a protracted battle with the railroad industry over issues of public safety. He was dedicated to holding railroads accountable for practices that needlessly endanger the public. Through the foundation he set at Pottroff & Karlin, Mr. Pottroff’s battle with railroads will persist as long as the rail industry chooses to engage in practices that prioritizes profits over their responsibility for public safety.