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A class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of those who were displaced, hurt or lost business because of the Oct. 29 train derailment north of West Point.
Filed in Hardin Circuit Court, the lawsuit was brought by Becky Brown, Susan E. Morgan, James Perry Jr. and Michael C. Smith. Brown, Smith and Morgan are residents of West Point while Perry lives in Meade County.
The defendants are listed as Paducah & Louisville Railway Inc., P&L Transportation, R.J. Corman Railroad Group LLC, Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health LLC and CSX Transportation.
Louisville attorney Jasper Ward represents the plaintiffs. Ward said Wednesday a class action suit represents “potentially thousands who have claims against the defendant.”
This particular class action, he said, was filed Tuesday in Hardin Circuit Court on behalf of anyone who has been hurt by the Oct. 29 train derailment.
“These folks have kind of stepped up,” Ward said about the four residents named in the complaint.
Bonnie Hackbarth, spokeswoman for Paducah & Louisville Railway, said P&L has not reviewed the complaint and could not comment.
Shortly after 6 a.m. Oct. 29, 13 rail cars of a 57-car, Paducah & Louisville train were derailed near the Hardin-Jefferson County line.
According to officials, the railcars were carrying chemicals, including butadiene and hydrogen fluoride, and at least one car leaked butadiene.
“The chemicals released by the derailment … are highly flammable, corrosive and ultra hazardous,” the complaint reads. “These toxic chemicals pose health hazards to people and businesses in the affected areas, and can lead to illnesses with side effects to the respiratory and reproductive systems and to the central nervous system.”
Two days later, officials said an explosion occurred at the site, igniting a fire. The plaintiffs claim the explosion was caused by R.J. Corman workers using acetylene torches, who were acting under the guidance of the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health.
According to the complaint, the derailment and subsequent explosion led to evacuations and shelter-in-place orders for hundreds of residents and also shut down a portion of U.S. 31W to traffic, which affected residents and businesses outside the evacuation area.
The complaint accuses the defendants of nuisance, trespass, negligence and failure to warn area residents in a timely manner of the dangers.
“As a direct and proximate result of defendants’ inherently dangerous, extremely hazardous and abnormally dangerous activities, the plaintiffs and the class have been damaged,” the complaint reads.
Ward said the plaintiffs are seeking fair compensation but also are seeking answers.
“We want to find out what happened and why it happened,” he said.
Hackbarth said P&L Railway has reimbursed those displaced by the derailment for hotel fees, food and incidental costs. The railway also paid 50 cents per mile for detour mileage claimed, she said.
According to Hackbarth, they also are taking claims for business losses.
“The goal was to try to help people get back to a normal lifestyle as quickly as possible,” she said.
The railway continues to take claims at its toll-free hotline, (800) 786-5204, and claim center at VFW Post 1181 at 6518 Blevins Gap Road, Louisville, Hackbarth said.
Ward said the suit was filed in Hardin Circuit Court because he believed the derailment occurred in Hardin County. However, emergency officials and West Point city officials claim the cars derailed in Jefferson County.
Jody Johnson Duncan, spokeswoman for Louisville EMA/Metrosafe, said the site was near the Hardin-Jefferson border, a “miniscule amount away” from Hardin County.
“It was almost to the point where it could have been in Hardin County, but it was in Jefferson County,” she said.
Ward said he doesn’t believe the exact location is an issue because the site was so close to the county line and many affected by the derailment reside in Hardin County.
If the defendants choose to argue about the location and file a motion for a change of venue, Ward said moving the lawsuit to Jefferson County would not affect the plaintiffs’ case.
Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@ thenewsenterprise.com.