Largest Group of First Responders to Paulsboro Conrail Hazmat Train Derailment Seek Answers and Damages in Lawsuit

May 14, 2013, 16:36 ET from Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, P.C.

PHILADELPHIA, May 14, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The largest group of first responders – including 12 police officers from Paulsboro and Greenwich Township, New Jersey – have named Conrail as the lead defendant in a Complaint that alleges that the freight railroad's negligence caused last November's derailment of tanker cars carrying toxic and carcinogenic vinyl chloride monomer.  The plaintiffs, who assert that the defendants deceived them and the public by understating the magnitude and known dangers of the chemical spill as a result of the four-car derailment, are asking for a jury trial in Philadelphia's Court of Common Pleas as they press for long term medical monitoring and damages.

Attorneys from the law firms of Williams, Cuker, & Berezofsky, P.C., and Saltz Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, P.C. filed the multi-count Complaint (Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, May 2013 NO. 001025) yesterday on behalf of the plaintiffs. More than 250 residents and workers in the affected area have now brought civil actions resulting from the derailment that occurred as the train was crossing against an automated red stop signal at a swing bridge over Mantua Creek. The alleged failure to properly maintain the bridge, which was the site of a similar accident in 2009 and the subject of numerous inspection citations, is documented in the Complaint. Just hours before the derailment a train crewmember reported a problem with the bridge, according to the complaint.

"There is absolutely no question that the derailment was a catastrophe just waiting to happen," said Robert J. Mongeluzzi, Esq., a co-counsel for the plaintiffs. "This was a clear case of Conrail knowing it had a chronically defective condition in that bridge and repeatedly failed to take the necessary corrective measures."

Mark R. Cuker, Esq.,  co-counsel who represents numerous other plaintiffs in previously filed complaints stemming from the derailment, said this latest filing underscores the total disregard Conrail had for the community and, in particular, the first responders.

"As stated in the Complaint, Conrail knew before, during, and after the derailment that the plaintiffs – who without hesitation bravely served their community- were placed in the line of fire and the railroad failed to protect them from the toxic levels of vinyl chloride until it was too late," he explained. "We now know, and the Complaint documents, that Conrail significantly downplayed the severity of the toxic threat while literally exposing the public safety workers to a known human carcinogen and its breakdown products, which include a chemical that was used to produce poisonous gas during World War I."  He added that Conrail followed a safety double standard by which it immediately issued protective equipment, including hazmat-response uniforms and safety masks, to its own personnel but not to the local first responders, including the plaintiffs.

"And when proper respiratory masks were finally issued to our clients, " he added, "they were not equipped with the required filters that make them effective."

Cuker said all of the plaintiffs suffered from ill health – including from respiratory and neurological ailments - as a result of the chemical release and many are still being treated.

Brian Fritz, of Saltz Mongeluzzi, said the plaintiffs are deeply concerned about their future health consequences.

"They had no option to evacuate and in many cases worked 12-hour shifts for two straight weeks. Now they live in fear of the future for themselves and their children," remarked Fritz. "They trusted Conrail to make sure they were prepared in the event of an accident, only to find that there was no emergency response plan that would protect them from harm."

While the Philadelphia-headquartered Conrail is named as the lead defendant in the action, CSX, Inc., and Norfolk Southern, Inc., are also defendants in the case.

SOURCE Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, P.C.