Paulsboro derailment blamed in death of woman, 77

Posted: March 07, 2013

The family of a 77-year-old Paulsboro woman has filed suit charging she died as a result of a chemical leak caused by the derailment of a tanker car in the town on Nov. 30.

Wessie Hardy, who had an underlying cardiovascular condition, died Dec. 3, three days after the derailment, according to the suit filed Feb. 25 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

The lawsuit names Conrail and its joint owners, CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp., as defendants, the law firm said.

A Conrail train crossing the Jefferson Street bridge derailed in the morning of Nov. 3, dumping four chemical tank cars into the Mantua Creek. One tanker was breached, spewing vinyl chloride gas into the air.

Hardy was outside attending to chores when she was enveloped in a chemical cloud, according to the suit.

She suffered breathing problems and chest pains a short time later and was taken to a hospital, where she died.

After the derailment, authorities said levels of the gas detected in Paulsboro were within acceptable limits for prolonged exposure.

Investigators have determined that the train crossed the automated draw bridge against a red light after the crew got the go-ahead from a dispatcher. The train's conductor had walked the bridge and did not see any problem.

But federal safety investigators said the swing bridge did not close properly after its last opening and was not locked in place when the train crossed the bridge.

"Ms. Hardy's death is a tragic result of a company failing to properly maintain equipment and inadequately transporting dangerous chemicals," said Joe Messa of the Philadelphia law firm Messa & Associates.

Conrail did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Contact Andrew Seidman at 856-779-3846 or

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