Back in November 2012, a train derailed over the Jefferson Street Bridge in Paulsboro, New Jersey, resulting in four tanker cars landing in the water of Mantua Creek. One of the fallen cars leaked thousands of pounds of vinyl chloride into the environment. Vinyl chloride is a toxic chemical used in producing PVC plastics and has the ability to result in many adverse health effects that range from drowsiness and dizziness to headaches, loss of consciousness, kidney and lung irritation, and in extreme circumstances, death.
After the leak occurred, many Paulsboro residents evacuated the town due to health concerns. Some residents went to local hospitals immediately following the leak with reported breathing problems, while future health problems remain to be seen for the Paulsboro residents who evacuated or the residents who remained.
Three lawsuits have already been filed on behalf of many Paulsboro residents, but the owner of the train and tracks, Conrail, has begun the settlement process with residents who agree not to sue. The settlement offers have ranged from $500-$2,500. Those who agree to settle basically agree to release Conrail and other related parties from any liability for damages or injuries resulting from the derailment, including the potential health effects of the vinyl chloride release.
While a spokesman for Conrail defended the settlement approach by stating, “We believe this process will address claims fairly, promptly, and with finality,” attorneys who filed suits on behalf of the Paulsboro residents believe the settlement offers are a way to take advantage of the residents who are in tight financial situations and live below the poverty line. An addendum to the settlement agreement releases all claims for minors that their parents are able to sign on. Part of the provision states that parents would have to pay Conrail back if the child decides to sue them at a later time.
In response, many law firms from around the area have spoken out against this practice, and urged residents to seek legal advice before accepting a settlement offer. A concern is that the residents might sign away their rights to receive aid if health problems resulting from the accident are not seen until later on in life.