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Kevin Duffan
Kevin Duffan
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Conrail Challenges Liability in N.J. Toxic Chemical Spill

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In response to one of the multiple lawsuits accusing Conrail and its parent companies, CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp., of negligence in a November train derailment and chemical spill in Paulsboro, N.J., Conrail is claiming it is “exempt from strict liability” for injuries and damages caused by the derailment because they are common carriers legally obliged to transport hazardous freight.

 

The company is claiming that they cannot refuse to transport toxic products. Legal experts, however, say that the general stance of the courts is that the railroads are in a better position to control the risks, to ensure against the risks, and should therefore be liable for all the damage that’s caused when there is an event.

 

Thousands of gallons of toxic vinyl chloride gas were released in the crash when a freight train derailed off an automated drawbridge, sending four tanker cars into Mantua Creek. Over 700 hundred residents were evacuated and had to stay away from their home for weeks. The lawsuit, which was filed by twenty plaintiffs, seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as medical monitoring to detect health risks related to significant exposure to the vinyl chloride.

 

The suit reads, in part, “The Railroad Defendants engaged in an abnormally dangerous activity . . . in a manner the Railroad Defendants knew to be dangerous and without taking proper precautions.” the train crossed the bridge even though the signal was red, indicating that the tracks had not locked. The suit also says that Conrail had received “trouble tickets” from crews in the months before the derailment that reported problems with the bridge. The National Safety Transportation Board (NSTB) has confirmed those reports.

 

But Conrail is claiming in their answer to the complaint that the suit “does not contain factual allegations showing that Plaintiffs suffered any significant exposure to vinyl chloride, that such an exposure would put any specific plaintiff at a significantly increased risk of developing any specific disease, or that a reasonable and effective medical-monitoring regimen exists for that disease.”

 

In their answer to an earlier lawsuit filed by fifty residents, Conrail denied that there was a massive spill of vinyl chloride as a result of the collapse of the bridge and said any injuries suffered by the plaintiffs was due to their own negligence.