An Inclusive Litany

6/19/98

In 1987, a leaky tank car carrying butadiene, a petroleum byproduct, caught fire while standing on a railroad track near New Orleans. The fire burned for 36 hours, and about 1000 residents were evacuated. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported no serious injuries, and there was no significant property damage. However, that did not prevent lawsuits from being filed before the fire had even been doused. 8,047 people eventually joined in a class-action suit seeking compensation for displacement, mental anguish, and fear of future suffering that has so far not materialized.

After eleven years of litigation, a jury decided that CSX Transportation—owners of the track on which the tank car was sitting—must pay a whopping $2.5 billion in damages. The NTSB had already determined that CSX bore no responsibility for the accident, which was caused by a faulty gasket, and liability for which was admitted by the owner of the tank car.

The Louisiana Supreme Court set aside the jury's verdict pending assessment of the plaintiff's claims.

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