A New Jersey mother has filed a toxic tort lawsuit following a recent freight train derailment in Paulsboro, New Jersey, which spilled thousands of gallons of chemicals into the air and nearby Mantua Creek, forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate the nearby town and seek medical attention.
The complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on December 6, seeking $10 million in damages on behalf of Alice Breeman and her three minor children.
According to allegations raised in the chemical spill lawsuit, a New Jersey train derailment on November 30 resulted in the release of vinyl cholorid, which caused Breeman and her children to suffer extensive physical injury.
Defendants named in the complaint include Conrail, Norfolk Southern Railway Co. and CSX Transportation, who jointly own and operate the Mantua Creek Bridge where the accident occurred. Breeman alleges that the companies acted in a “grossly careless manner” concerning the upkeep of the bridge and the “safety, health, welfare and life” of local residents.
Bridge Malfunction Reported
The Mantua Creek Bridge is a swing bridge built in 1873, which is designed to allow for water and rail traffic to proceed along the creek. In the lawsuit, Breeman alleges the defendants not only had prior knowledge of mechanical malfunction issues on the bridge, but also neglected to properly maintain and inspect the bridge according to state and federal law.
Breeman’s indicates that the defendants had knowledge of 23 “trouble tickets” concerning the malfunction of the bridge and nine “trouble tickets” reporting improper operation of the bridge in the month prior to the accident.
The plaintiff also claims the track on the bridge failed to connect and lock properly with the track on either side of the bridge, an ongoing problem the companies were aware of, according to the complaint.
Additionally, the lawsuit details the defendants desire to cut costs concerning the operation of the bridge after the bridge operator position was eliminated. The bridge operator’s sole duty was to ensure the safe locking of tracks back into proper position following a swing maneuver.
This position was then replaced by a mechanical operation system, which allegedly failed to operate correctly on the day of the accident. Furthermore, the train’s engineer contacted a dispatcher requesting permission to cross, in spite of a red light signaling the train to remain on one side of the bridge due to possible rail lock malfunction. The dispatcher gave permission for the train to cross anyway.
The three railway companies who are jointly responsible for the bridge are also accused of failing to inspect the bridge every three months, according to federal and state laws. The inspection which was required for this quarter and was due in September was not performed.
Exposure to Toxic Chemicals Around Paulsboro, New Jersey
As a result of the spill caused by the train accident, Breeman indicates that she and her children inhaled and ingested toxic chemicals, causing injuries to many areas of their body, including neurological problems, damage to their respiratory system and damage to internal organs. The lawsuit also highlights the increased likelihood of developing cancer or other serious diseases or psychological problems as a result of the incident.
Vinyl chloride is a highly flammable chemical used to manufacture PVC pipes and bottles. Exposure to vinyl chloride can cause a burning sensation in the eyes or respiratory discomfort.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) short term exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride through inhalation can cause dizziness, drowsiness and headaches. Prolonged exposure can result in liver damage, and in some cases has been shown to increase a person’s risk of a rare form of liver cancer.
Following the accident, thousands of area residents were evacuated from the area and kept away from their homes, schools and businesses for about a week.
Throughout last week, unsafe levels of vinyl chloride were detected in the air.
Breeman is seeking $150,000 in compensatory damage and $10 million dollars in punitive damages.