The general rule is that a defendant will be absolutely liable for damages and injuries caused when conducting a hazardous activity or handling hazardous chemicals. That could be the standard used against CSX railroad company. On July 3, thousands of people were evacuated from their Tennessee homes in Maryville, and dozens reported respiratory injuries when a train car carrying a hazardous material derailed and released at least some of its contents into the air. At least 87 persons were treated at the Blount Memorial Hospital, and 36 were admitted with possible serious injuries.
The car that derailed contained liquid acrylonitrile, a hazardous substance used in manufacturing plastics. The highly flammable chemical is dangerous if inhaled. It can cause headaches, dizziness, irritability and rapid heartbeat. Whether the effects can be long-term or even permanent is unclear at this time. What is clear is that the derailed car had been engulfed in flames and was releasing a massive flood of smoke into the surrounding areas.
One by-product of burning acrylonitrile is cyanide, a life-threatening chemical that may have been contained in the fumes. After reportedly testing the air quality, officials said it was okay for 5,000 evacuated residents to return to their homes. The victims treated at or admitted to the hospital were reportedly suffering from respiratory issues, skin irritations and nausea. Additionally, 10 first responders were treated at the hospital for breathing fumes.
CSX promised to reimburse everyone for expenses incurred. Some people reported receiving hotel vouchers, food and ice cream. They were also given bottled water amidst warnings not to drink the local water. All damages incurred by injured residents -- including medical expenses, lost income, permanent or partial disability and pain and suffering -- will likely be the responsibility of CSX pursuant to Tennessee and federal laws. In the cases involving serious injuries, a consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney would be highly beneficial due to the need to assure that a victim's rights are fully protected.
Source: ksl.com, "Video: Despite lightning, rain, officer helps stranded man", Steve Megargee and Johnny Clark, July 3, 2015