Hyndman derailment spurs suit against CSX

Three family members suffered injuries after 2017 incident

A lawsuit brought in the Bedford County Court of Common pleas by a Hyndman family, claiming damages for injuries suffered during a 2017 train derailment, has been moved by the CSX railroad to the U.S. District Court in Johnstown.

The family includes Robert Scaife; his wife, Diane Scaife; and Robert Scaife III, all residents of Hyndman, where a CSX Trans­portation Co. freight train derailed on Aug. 2, 2017.

Two tank cars, one containing pro­pane and the other carrying molten sulfur, ruptured and caught fire.

The fire burned for more than two days and resulted in the forced evacuation of more than 1,000 residents, many of whom could not return to their residences for several days to two weeks.

The lawsuit filed in Bedford County on March 19 by attorneys Bryan S. Neiderhiser and Russell J. Bopp of Indiana charges that the railroad was negligent in its operation of the 178-car freight train, and as a result, members of the Scaife family suffered multiple health problems that will have lasting effects, including future medical expenses and loss of earnings.

Robert Scaife suffered chemical burns to his throat and respiratory damage, while Diane Scaife and Robert Scaife III experienced injuries to their sinuses and nasal passages, the lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit requests unspecified money damages for the injuries suffered by the Scaifes, but also is asking for punitive or punishment damages as well.

The railroad filed a petition in the U.S. District Court on Monday, pointing out that the federal court has jurisdiction in such a case because it is a company incorporated in Virginia with its headquarters in Florida.

The Scaife lawsuit is in addition to a class action lawsuit filed last year by several other residents of Hyndman, including Robert Cook and his fiancee, Jennifer Queen, Lorelei Gordon and Denora Diehl — all longtime residents who were forced to evacuate their homes after the early morning train derailment.

The class action lawsuit has passed a major hurdle as it proceeds toward trial before U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson.

Gibson has allowed the civil action to continue on grounds of negligence and private nuisance claims by the residents.

The railroad has denied the negligence claim and basically denies knowledge of the nuisance charges, demanding proof in court of those claims.

Railroad attorney Edwin Palmer of Pittsburgh, in filing the petition in the Scaife case, stated, “By removing the action to (the federal court) CSXT does not admit to any of the facts alleged in the complaint, or waive any defenses, objections, or motions available to it under state or federal law.”

According to the most recent lawsuit, CSX was operating a train that included five locomotives and 178 cars, 128 loaded and 50 empty.

Some of the cars contained materials such as propane, eight cars held molten sulfur, others asphalt and phosphoric acid residue.

The lawsuit claims the train was traveling through Hyndman when it derailed, resulting in the release of “hazardous, ultra-hazard­ous, and/or inherently dangerous materials.”

It outlines two circumstances that resulted in the ensuing derailment and the evacuation of Hyndman: problems with the train’s compressed air brake system, and the configuration or alignment of the cars.

The train was operated by two crews that day.

The National Transporta­tion Safety Board concluded that conductor of the first crew stopped the train as it was traveling down a slope and discovered an air leak 20 rail cars from the rear of the train.

The crew used 58 hand brakes to stop the train.

A mechanic on the first crew worked on the air leak problem but was unable to repair it.

A second crew took over the train, and the Scaife lawsuit contends that crew should have known about the air brake problems.

But the second crew operated the train toward Hyndman utilizing only 33 or the 58 hand brakes with the train, traveling at speeds of 20 mph to 30 mph.

The 35th car derailed as the train was nearing Hyndman.

The 35 cars at the front of the train were carrying only 1,631 tons of freight, while the rear car contained 16,621 tons, which the lawsuit stated, was a “dangerous configuration.”

It contends “the train was not properly organized to safely and appropriately distribute the weight of the railcars. … This dangerous configuration contributed to the derailment.”

It charges, “This improper railcar arrangement was negligent. … “

In the two lawsuits now before the federal court in Johnstown there is no statement concerning the amount of damages being requested.

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