100+ Sue After Toxic Train Derailment

More than 100 people, including first responders, claim they sustained injuries after inhaling vinyl chloride

A class action lawsuit was filed today relating to the Paulsboro, New Jersey train derailment and chemical spill that forced hundreds of people from their homes and left dozens sick last year.

The plaintiffs include more than 100 first responders, young children, and property owners who allege they sustained injuries and damages after the hazardous chemical spill.

On November 30, seven cars of an 84-car train derailed on or near a swivel-style bridge over Mantua Creek. The accident released vinyl chloride, leading to the evacuation of more than 329 families and businesses. Dozens were checked out at a hospital.

“We believe and are alleging in this case this derailment not only could have been prevented but that there was knowledge beforehand of the risks of trains transporting dangerous chemicals and tankers across this bridge and that knowledge was sufficient that they were obligated to take action to avoid the kind of harm that happened on November 30 of last year,” said Aaron Freiwald, lead trial counsel for the plaintiffs, during a press conference today.

Erma and Walt Stevenson have lived in Paulsboro for 26 years. They say they've grown increasingly frustrated with Conrail officials.

“Conrail has not been very nice to us, said Erma during a press conference in her home today. “They are not my favorite. They tell you a lot of things and you find out that they’ve lied to you.”

In the case, Spears et al v. Conrail et al, filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia this morning, all of the individual plaintiffs claim they inhaled significant quantities of vinyl chloride. The chemical is linked to short-term breathing problems, but prolonged exposure has been tied to cancer. They are asking for compensatory damages, damages for physical injuries and losses, mental anguish, property loss, and medical monitoring now and in the future.

“These are factory workers, engineers, police officers, school kids and their moms and dads, grandparents. And none of them should have been put through the physical and emotional hell these companies have put them through, “said Scott McKinley, co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

Cassandra Clarke, mother of two, said her daughter, 12, and son, 7, got sick as a result of the spill.

“As a parent it’s your worst nightmare. I am really concerned that my children are going to be alright, that they are going to have longevity and be lively,” said Clarke.

First responders claim that Conrail representatives advised them throughout the day that they did not need breathing masks or other personal protective equipment, despite high readings of vinyl chloride in the air. The suit states they later underwent extensive medical testing that showed high levels of vinyl chloride in their urine.

Other plaintiffs in the new civil action claim they were walking their young children to school, driving to work or inside their home when they say they were engulfed by fumes.

“The November 30th derailment was no accident,” said Freiwald. “Defendants knew that the bridge was not safe for rail traffic involving highly dangerous chemicals. There was complete disregard for the health and safety of those living in and around Paulsboro and now we are asking these companies to pay for the damage they have done.”

Last month Conrail offered to settle with hundreds of Paulsboro residents. They offered some families $500 per child and those who live closest to the site were offered more. But lawyers for the families say the amount would not cover future medical bills if the children get sick.

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