Family wants CSX case resolved in Bedford court
A Hyndman family seeking damages for health problems caused when a CSX Transportation Co. train derailed in the borough 21 months ago has asked the federal court in Johnstown to send the case back to the Bedford County Common Pleas Court for resolution.
Robert Scaife, his wife, Diane, and Robert Scaife III are contending that they suffered injuries to their nasal passages, sinuses and respiratory systems due to the “chemicals, gases, fumes and vapors” that were released during the early morning of Aug. 2, 2017, when the derailment occurred as a 178-car train was moving through Hyndman.
The derailed cars were carrying substances such as propane, molten sulfur, asphalt and phosphoric acid, and the derailment caused an explosion and fire.
The incident resulted in the forced evacuation of more than 1,000 residents in the Hyndman area.
Three lawsuits have resulted so far, including the one brought by the Scaife family, as well as a class action lawsuit brought by four other residents of the borough, and the most recent by residents Charles J. Miller and his daughter, Janet Ritchey.
Ritchey owns the home in which Miller lived, and which, it is claimed, was badly damaged by the explosion and fire.
All three cases are now in the U.S. District Court in Johnstown, however, the Scaife lawsuit was originally filed in March by Indiana attorneys Bryan S. Neiderhiser and Russell J. Bopp in Bedford County.
CSX attorneys had the lawsuit moved to the federal court, citing the fact that CSX is a company incorporated in Virginia and headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla.
Because the legal dispute involves parties from different states, CSX contended it is permitted to move the case to the federal court.
But, earlier this month, the Scaife family attorneys filed a petition requesting the lawsuit be returned to the Bedford County Court’s arbitration division.
CSX claims the case should be in the federal court because damages being requested will exceed $75,000, but, according the Scaife attorneys, there is no evidence to support that claim.
The Bedford County Board of Arbitrators was established to hear claims of $25,000 and under.
The plaintiffs (the Scaife family) “vigorously contests that (CSX) has satisfied its burden to establish with ‘legal certainty’ the amount in controversy requirement is met …” according to the petition.
No date for the hearing has been set.
In the class action lawsuit brought by residents Denora Diehl, Robert Cook, Jennifer Queen and Lorelei Gordon on behalf of the 1,000-plus evacuees, CSX has asked U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson to dismiss the lawsuit because the parties have already been reimbursed for losses caused by the derailment, and, it noted none of the four residents are seeking additional reimbursement for “personal injury or property damage.”
CSX contended in early April, “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 property damage.”
The attorneys for the four residents — Neiderhiser and three others, D. Blayne Honeycutt of Denham Springs, La., Mark P. Bryant of Paducah, Ky., and David G. Bryant of Louisville, Ky. — take issue with CSX’s request for dismissal.
In its answer to CSX, the plaintiffs’ attorneys cited a statement of facts from one of the defendant’s expert witnesses, a psychiatrist, Dr. Dale Panzer of West Conshohocken, who related, “All four class representatives suffered some sort of psychiatric stress as the result of this derailment.”
Panzer, in his April 19 deposition, went on to say that it would take a psychiatric assessment of each individual to determine the level of impact — whether mild or severe — the derailment had on the four named in the lawsuit, and the other evacuees.
In the depositions cited by the attorneys, the plaintiffs outlined what they went through as a result of the derailment.
They talked about being forced from their homes for several days, and the impact it had on them as they sought housing in area motels.
Diehl, for instance, was quoted in her deposition relating how emotional it was with her daughters crying and herself crying when they couldn’t find lodging.
“I was crying so bad, and I said, ‘I just need help,'” she related.
Once back home, she described the effect on her due to the fumes, the smell, the noise and lights throughout the night because of the cleanup.
Diehl said her granddaughter, “screams every time a train comes by and holds her ears. …”
Gordon related how she spent three nights in a motel, and reported that when she arrived home, she found spoiled food and mold on her laundry.
She testified she had to throw out clothes and get rid of her carpet.
Queen reported her fear and anxiety was at a high level, and she had a tough time trying to communicate with CSX, noting, “I’m deaf.”
“The police just told me to get out, so I got in the car, and it was devastating to me,” she reported.
In his deposition, Cook stated that he worries about the trains coming through.
“I can feel them blowing through town. It literally scares the living daylights out of me,” he testified.
These are real damages, even though they do not involve property or physical injury, according to the plaintiffs, and because of that, they are asking Judge Gibson to reject the CSX petition to dismiss.