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Claims Against Conrail in NJ Derailment Tossed Out by Third Circuit

August 30, 2017 |

derailment accidentThe last week of August, lawsuits against Consolidated Rail Corp. were tossed out by the Third Circuit. The lawsuits were in lieu of a 2012 train derailment and chemical spill that happened in Paulsboro, New Jersey. According to the panel, the injuries that came as a result of the derailment to the area resident and her children, along with the two first responders that came on the scene, were not substantial enough to fall under federal jurisdiction.

On November 30, 2012, seven train cars derailed on a swing bridge located in Paulsboro while attempting to cross. During the incident, one of the cars spilled 20,000 of vinyl chloride into the creek after the car ruptured. This led to a vapor cloud forming after the chloride hit the creek.

Without compensatory damages above a $75,000 amount-in-controversy, the unprecedented opinion was made without prejudice. The cases that were filed by the resident and the two first responders could not add up to the threshold needed and there was no case for punitive damages that could have pushed the amount to where it needed to be for action. The panel noted punitive damages were not available due to the allegations being unable to prove that Conrail acted with malice or willful disregard of a known risk of imminent harm.

While the claimant alleged adequate steps were not taken to remedy or guard against potential risk of harm, there is only hearsay of what facts and risks personnel should have been aware of at the time. Additionally, punitive damages are not available when a defendant is aware of a potential danger and is unsuccessful in prevention but does make attempts at steps toward a remedy.

The panel also noted that the claimant only sought medical attention for herself and youngest child, while claiming damages for her older two daughters as well. The panel found the ongoing symptoms of the youngest child to be minor persisting injuries rather than life altering. Additionally, the claimant claimed to be undergoing medical monitoring for cancer, which turned out to be lifestyle coaching such as diet and exercise to minimize cancer risk, which shows the claimant did not allege specific medical testing or early detection methods to identify the cancer she was alleging a risk for. Even further, her own expert witness put her increased likelihood of cancer at one in 10,000.

The two first responders were found in a similar circumstance. While there were injuries, they fell far below the $75,000 jurisdiction. Further, the panel interpreted their demands for seeking compensation for ongoing medical monitoring and emotional fears over the risk of cancer as not substantial enough to push over the needed compensatory damages for the jurisdiction threshold.

If you are claiming damages for an accident that should have been preventable by the liable party, you need the right legal representation. Having the right narrative, defense and expert witnesses could mean the difference between the compensation you need for recovery and not meeting the jurisdiction threshold needed to have your case heard. Contact us at Malamut & Associates today to find out how our years of experience can benefit your case.