Lawsuits alleging personal injury and financial losses continue to mount against Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail) and affiliated rail companies after a 2012 bridge failure in Paulson, N.J., sent four tanker cars laden with vinyl chloride into New Jersey’s Mantua Creek, a waterway that feeds into the Delaware River.
A group of 27 plaintiffs, including individuals, businesses, and business owners, accuse the Consolidated Rail Corp., CSX Transportation Inc., and Norfolk Southern Railway Co. of negligence in overseeing and maintaining the bridge, which collapsed on Nov. 20. The bridge failure derailed 82 Conrail freight cars and released more than 12,000 gallons of highly toxic and flammable vinyl chloride, sending a cloud of chemical vapor over the area.
Exposure to the chemical, used to make PVC pipes, can cause respiratory problems, burning eyes, and other complications. About two dozen people were treated in local hospitals after the incident. According to Law 360, one plaintiff said that she was driving when she entered a “fog” of chemical vapor so thick that she had to use her high beams and hazard lights. She then alleges she developed skin irritation, coughing and headaches from the toxic cloud.
Additionally, the plaintiff says in her lawsuit that the incident killed her efforts to sell her home.
“Following the derailment and exposure to vinyl chloride, the real estate agent took the sign off her lawn without her knowledge and told her ‘Nothing is selling in Paulsboro,’” Law 360 reported, citing the plaintiff’s lawsuit.
Other plaintiffs have lodged similar complaints against the rail companies, alleging the derailment caused their businesses and properties to lose value.
According to Law 360, “The plaintiffs, including some emergency personnel that responded to the incident, allege that in the year leading up to the derailment, the transportation companies … received at least 23 so-called trouble tickets that the bridge had malfunctioned, and in the month preceding the accident, received at least nine tickets reporting the bridge wasn’t operating correctly.”
Another class action lawsuit against Conrail was sent to New Jersey in September for litigation after a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge accepted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case, arguing the case didn’t belong in Pennsylvania because the derailment occurred in New Jersey. Two other groups of Pennsylvania plaintiffs had previously dropped lawsuits in their state and joined the New Jersey litigation, according to Law 360.
Conrail is also seeking to have the New Jersey cases dismissed, contending that the plaintiffs haven’t demonstrated why they need medical monitoring.