Suits Filed Over Arkansas Rail Explosion

October 21, 2008

Lawsuits filed over a 2005 Union Pacific derailment, explosion and chemical leak in Texarkana, Ark., include one case that claims a second person died as a result of the accident and others that seek damages for thousands of people.

The final batch of suits was filed a day shy of the third anniversary of the Oct. 15, 2005, collision. Court rules allowed three years after the incident for lawsuits to be filed.

A train from Chicago struck another train, from Pine Bluff, in the Union Pacific yard on the south side of the city, near the police station. Some of the cars derailed in an accordion effect, piercing a propylene tanker that leaked part of its flammable cargo. Officials said a small propane tank exploded.

Pearlie Mae Marshall, 62, died when the explosion destroyed her home. A suit filed over Marshall’s death was settled for $2 million.

Other people complained of respiratory problems and hundreds of homes and a jail were evacuated.

One of the lawsuits names the family of Norma Sims as plaintiffs and alleges Sims died 10 days after the collision because of the fumes she inhaled.

The derailment occurred at about 4:30 a.m. on the same day of the 2005 Race For the Cure. The race was canceled and police, fire and emergency medical personnel went to work in the accident zone. Local buses were driven into the area known as Hobo Jungle Park to evacuate residents living within a mile of the crash.

A suit naming about 18 first responders as plaintiffs was among the eight filed recently.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the probable cause of the collision was “the failure of the crew of the train to remain attentive and alert and thereby able to stop short of an observable standing train.”

The report noted that the crew had worked all night.

All the suits allege the accident was the fault of Union Pacific conductor Percy Beverly and engineer J.L. Gordon.

“A toxic chemical plume quickly formed and hovered above the Texarkana vicinity for hours, and thousands of individuals were awakened, startled and promptly forced to evacuate from their homes and businesses,” said a suit on behalf of 1,200 plaintiffs who lived within a one-mile radius of the blast or were exposed to the noxious vapors. The suit names Union Pacific, as well as the train’s conductor and engineer, as defendants.

“Specifically, these explosions resulted in the total destruction and incineration of multiple homes and personal property in the surrounding areas and properties. The propylene and other dangerous and toxic substances subsequently ignited, causing multiple violent and deadly explosions,” the lawsuit said.

Another suit lists 1,400 plaintiffs and says victims are suffering continued physical and emotional effects from the accident.

In addition to a tanker car filled with propylene that leaked and then ignited, a trestle bridge likely treated with creosote, houses, cars and transformers also burned and released various substances into the air.

Federal officials estimated the damage caused by the derailment at $2.4 million.

Union Pacific says it has settled numerous suits by evacuees and is hoping to settle more.

“This was a tragic situation. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Texarkana community,” Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said. “We are very much willing and able to help those that were affected in the evacuation zone. We want to do the responsible thing.”

One suit seeks class status for 160 people who fall into, “the personal injury class, the evacuation class, the property damage class and/or the economic loss/business loss class.”

Information from: Texarkana Gazette,

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.