Residents affected by a train derailment and fire that evacuated a small town near Louisville, Kentucky have filed a lawsuit against the railroad and cleanup contractors.
The lawsuit is the first to be brought against Paducah & Louisville Railway for the derailment and Oct. 31 explosion that occurred during the cleanup.
Four residents who live in or near the West Point community have filed the suit in Hardin County, accusing P&L, CSX Railroad and two companies involved in the cleanup of allowing toxic substances to be released into residents’ property. The suit also says the companies did not warn residents of the dangers of the fire and chemical spill in a timely fashion. Lawyers are seeking class- action status, meaning more residents could join the legal action.
Officials evacuated West Point after the explosion and fire, which was sparked by a cleanup crew using an acetylene cutting torch at the derailment site. Three workers were injured in the blast.
“The nuisance has affected the life and health of the plaintiffs, interfering with the comfortable use and enjoyment of life and property,” the suit said.
A spokeswoman for P&L, Bonnie Hackbarth, said the company had not read the suit and had no comment. She said P&L is an affiliate of CSX and CSX has an “ownership interest” in P&L, which has 265 miles of railroad in Kentucky.
P&L has been reimbursing evacuated West Point residents and others who lived near the derailment site who were inconvenienced by roadblocks and traffic detours. Hackbarth did not say how much P&L has paid so far in reimbursement claims. She said residents who received payments from the company were not required to sign a waiver declaring they wouldn’t pursue legal action.
Jasper Ward, a Louisville attorney who filed the suit along with a Paducah firm, said P&L is “unilaterally deciding what they’re paying people.”
“I don’t think they’re paying enough in terms of what they actually lost,” Ward said. He estimated the class action could attract up to 10,000 plaintiffs.
The suit filed Tuesday was brought by West Point residents Becky Brown, Michael C. Smith and Susan E. Morgan along with Vine Grove resident James Perry Jr.
Morgan was evacuated from her home for seven days and alleges in the suit that she had difficulty breathing and inflammation of her asthma, which she blames on the chemical spill that occurred after the derailment. A leaking tanker with the chemical butadiene burned for more than a day after the explosion.
Smith and Perry say in the complaint that the derailment forced them to drive several miles out of their way to get to their jobs and Smith says his truck business suffered financial losses. Brown says she suffered “severe mental anxiety and stress caused by the derailment and chemical spill.” She said she and her husband fled their home and stayed in a motel.
The suit also names R.J. Corman Railroad Group and the Little Rock, Ark.-based Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, which were both brought in to help with the cleanup.
An official with P&L told reporters after the explosion that workers were using the acetylene torch at the site because the air-monitoring contractor had approved it, but he said the explosion was an accident.
Officials had expected the fire to burn itself out within a couple of hours, but it burned for four days. The train derailed near Dixie Highway, a main corridor between Louisville and Fort Knox. Nine of the 13 derailed cars were carrying hazardous chemicals.
Lawyers with Jones Ward in Louisville and the Bryant Law Center in Paducah filed the suit. They have scheduled a town hall meeting in West Point on Nov. 30 to invite more plaintiffs to join the suit.