CSX challenges family’s lawsuit
Railroad seeks proof Hyndman derailment led to Scaifes’ injuries
CSX railroad has answered a lawsuit filed against it last week, admitting that there was an air leak in the brake system of one railcar in a train that derailed in Hyndman Borough in 2017, but denying and demanding proof that the company’s employees were negligent or careless in their operation of the train.
The company also denied the more than 2-milelong train that included 178 cars was improperly organized with more than 16,621 tons of freight at the rear and 27 empty railcars at the front.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of a family who lived in Hyndman contended the improper distribution of weight was a “dangerous configuration” that contributed to the derailment.
Railcars carrying propane and molten sulfur were among those that derailed.
Those cars were badly damaged and exploded, causing a fire that lasted two days.
More than 1,000 residents in a mile radius of the derailment were evacuated from their homes during the early morning of Aug. 2, 2017.
Robert Scaife, his wife, Diane, and Robert Scaife III sued the company because of resulting chemical burns to their throats and other injuries they incurred.
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Bryan S. Neiderhiser and Russell J. Bopp of Indiana, contends, among other charges, that the improper arrangement of the railcars was “negligent, careless and reckless.”
The company, in its answer, filed by attorneys Carolyn Wagner of Jacksonville, Fla., and Scott L. Winkelman of Washington, D.C., denied the allegations and demanded that proof be offered at trial.
The company is also questioning the injuries claimed by the Scaifes.
Robert Scaife states in the lawsuit that he suffered chemical burns of his throat, severe injury to his throat and esophagus, as well as ongoing respiratory conditions due to inhaling the chemicals, fumes and vapors that emanated into the community.
Diane Scaife and Robert Scaife III stated they have suffered from severe injury to the sinuses, nasal passages and face as well as injuries to the throat.
CSX in its answer is denying the injuries occurred and is demanding proof at trial.
The company also is challenging the Scaifes’ request for punishment damages.
The lawsuit by the Scaifes was initially filed in Bedford County Court but last week was moved by CSX to U.S. District Court in Johnstown.
Days later, the company filed its answer.
The lawsuit stated that the derailment resulted in the release of “hazardous, ultra-hazardous and/or inherently dangerous materials.”
The company answer stated that those allegations are “mischaracterized.”
It is also charged that the train experienced an air leak in the brake system of a railcar near the rear of the long train and that the train was stopped for repairs.
The lawsuit claims the air leak was not repaired.
The company agreed that a second crew was called in to take over operation of the train before it moved forward into Hyndman.
In its answer, CSX did not address whether the air leak was or was not repaired when the second crew assumed control.
The plaintiffs contend that the second crew should have known that the air brake system had not been repaired and that it was careless to have proceeded into Hyndman Borough.
CSX denies allegations that it was negligent in allowing the train to proceed.
The Scaife lawsuit was the second submitted to the federal court in Johnstown.
The first was a class action filed last year by Hyndman residents Denora Diehl, Jennifer Queen, Robert Cook and Lorlei Gordon.
That case is moving toward trial, but CSX recently asked it be dismissed, pointing out that most of the problems that occurred as a result of the Hyndman accident have been resolved and that there are no lasting injuries suffered by the residents.
In a motion for summary judgment, the railroad pointed out that the injuries suffered by the residents who were forced from their homes included pets left unattended, expired food, missed work, fumes, smoke and bright lights, odor, aggravation, fear and anguish.
At present, none of the plaintiffs in the Diehl lawsuit are seeking damages for personal injury, loss of property or loss of property value, CSX claimed.
The railroad stated in its latest filing, “What remains of this case, then, are allegations of fear and anxiety — but of a transitory nature, and without physical manifestation, and associated inconvenience falling short of physical damage.”
The Scaifes, however, are seeking damages for physical injury.
In a third lawsuit, filed last week by Hyndman resident Charles J. Miller, who was forced to flee his home of 53 years, and his daughter, Janet E. Ritchey of Illinois, who owns the home Miller lives in, the damages being sought are for both physical damage to the home and injury to Miller’s health.
CSX has not yet filed an answer in the Miller-Ritchey lawsuit.