In a lawsuit seeking $279 million in alleged property damages, Marshall Dennehey attorneys successfully defended their client, a subcontractor of a railroad repair shop, against any and all liability. 

The case involved the August 2016 rupture of a railroad tank car containing 178,000 lbs. of liquefied chlorine at the plaintiff’s chlorine manufacturing plant in West Virginia. The tank car had recently been returned to the plaintiff after undergoing extensive repairs in the spring of 2016. The chemical producer-plaintiff filed suit against three parties as a result of the chlorine release: its fleet maintenance manager, the railcar repair shop that performed the 2016 repairs to the tank car and our client, a subcontractor of the railroad repair shop involved in the aspect of the repairs which the plaintiff claimed were performed negligently. 

At the time of the 2016 repairs, the tank car was 37 years old and had several characteristics associated with it that were known in the railroad industry to cause cracks in the tank’s shell. It was undisputed at trial that there was a small, pre-existing crack in the tank shell prior to the 2016 repairs at issue, and that, but-for this pre-existing crack, the tank car would not have ruptured in August of 2016, which was the first time the tank car was loaded with chlorine since the repairs were completed. Allegations of comparative negligence were asserted by all of the defendants against the plaintiff for its decision to repair, rather than scrap, the tank car in 2016. 

During trial, the plaintiff asserted it was entitled to $278 million in replacement-value property damage associated with alleged damage to its equipment at its 500-acre chlorine manufacturing plant. The plaintiff requested, and the trial judge granted, a jury instruction providing that the jury could award replacement value damages. The nearly six-week trial encompassed over 30 witnesses and 10 expert witnesses. After deliberations, the jury awarded only $12.8 million in damages, assessing the railcar repair shop with 40% of liability, the plaintiff’s fleet maintenance manager with 20% of liability, and the plaintiff itself with the remaining 40% of liability. No liability was assessed to our client.