HUNTINGTON – CSX has asked to remove a lawsuit filed by nearly 100 Fayette County residents over a February trail derailment that resulted in spilled oil and evacuations to federal court.
The 96 people originally filed the lawsuit Sept. 1 in Wayne Circuit Court against CSX Corporation and CSX Transportation Inc. CSX filed motions to remove it to federal court and to dismiss the case.
In the original complaint, the plaintiffs sought compensatory and punitive damages from the Feb. 16 accident at Mount Carbon near the Kanawha-Fayette county line. They claim the defendants were negligent in operating the train that had two locomotives and 109 tanker cars that was headed from North Dakota to Yorktown, Va.
The derailment of 14-17 of the tanker cars spilled thousands of gallons of “highly flammable” Bakken crude oil onto the ground and into the Kanawha River, the complaint states. “Several explosions and fires occurred as a direct result of the train derailment. Approximately 300 families had to be evacuated.”
The plaintiffs say water service was interrupted for several adjacent communities, including Montgomery, Smithers, Cannelton, London, Handley and Hughes Creek.
They claim the defendants failed to properly inspect and maintain the trains, tracks, cars and contents, leading to the derailment and spill. They say the breathed the harmful chemicals, were exposed to the chemicals, were evacuated, incurred medical expenses, lost wages and have had expenses to clean the contamination.
The plaintiffs say they suffered damages from interruption of normal personal pursuits and business activities and opportunities. That includes having to purchase water as well as lost income and evacuation. They also claim loss of use, annoyance and inconvenience as a result of the inadequate amounts of water left in the system after intakes were closed.
They accuse CSX of negligence, public nuisance, private nuisance and trespass. And they say they will require medical monitoring.
The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages, attorney fees, court costs, pre- and post-judicial interest, past and future medical monitoring and other relief. They also seek punitive damages, saying CSX’s conduct was willful, wanton and reckless.
They are being represented by Charleston attorney Rod Jackson and Charleston attorney Travis A. Griffith as well as Mark Bryant and Emily Roark of Bryant Law Center in Paducah, Ky., and Calvin C. Fayard Jr., D. Blayne Honeycutt and Wanda J. Edwards of Fayard & Honeycutt APC in Denham Springs, La.
In its removal motion, CSX argues that the plaintiffs will seek more than $75,000 in damages against the multi-state corporation, so federal court is the correct option for the case.
"Lacking an expressed statement of the amount claimed, (federal) court looks to the totality of the circumstances, including the complaint, the type and extent of the plaintiff's injuries, the amount awarded in similar cases and losses incurred to date of removal," the motion states.
In its dismissal motion, CSX says "plaintiffs do not and cannot meet the substantive requirements of their trespass, nuisance and medical monitoring claims."
CSX is represented by Marc Williams, Melissa Foster Bird and Bob Massie of Nelson Mullins in Huntington as well as by April N. Ross, Carolyn W. Wagner, Clifford J. Zatz and Scott L. Winkelman of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C.
A recent Federal Railroad Administration report said the derailment was preventable. The report also said CSX and contractor Sperry Rail Service twice failed to detect a broken rail.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers.
U.S. District Court case number 3:15-cv-13328