When Railroad Chemical and Oil Spills Occur, Who Pays?

After any major train accident or derailment, government agencies and watchdog organizations assess the degree to which local biosystems have been affected. This is especially true for accidents involving oil spills; the long-term environmental effects of these incidents can persist long after the official investigation has concluded. Train accident lawyers are often integrally involved in determining who must pay for injuries, losses and environmental damage caused by railroad collisions and derailments. Even when railway companies are held responsible, they may pay only a small percentage of the actual cleanup costs and damages. Here are some factors that can affect who pays for environmental remediation and financial damages after an oil train accident. Lack of Financial Resources and Insurance Coverage In July 2013, an unattended train loaded with crude oil and owned by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) derailed in the heart of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The accident claimed the lives of 47 people and resulted in millions of dollars in damage to property. MMA contractors participated in the cleanup during the first few days after the accident. The failure of MMA to pay these workers, however, resulted in the cessation of these efforts. The insurance held by MMA was woefully inadequate to cover the damages sustained by victims, families and businesses in Lac-Mégantic; one court document listed the coverage held by MMA at $25 million, a far cry from the estimated $200 million required for full remediation of the environmental damage done to this community. Ultimately, MMA filed bankruptcy, leaving the Canadian government on the hook for the cleanup costs resulting from this tragic derailment. Passing the Buck The Quebec government ultimately sought compensation for cleanup costs from Canadian Pacific Railway, claiming that the railroad company was the primary contractor responsible for the shipment of crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to a refinery located in New Brunswick. Canadian Pacific Railway disavowed any responsibility in the incident; nonetheless, the minister of environmental affairs maintained that the company and other affiliated business entities would be held responsible for the negligence and failures of MMA and for the cleanup necessitated by this avoidable accident. These arguments echo the claims made by Southern Pacific more than 20 years earlier in relation to the catastrophic Sacramento River chemical spill; the railroad company argued at that time that the financial responsibility for the train wreck should be shared with the manufacturers and end users who contracted with Southern Pacific to transport metam sodium pesticide by rail. Government Agencies Typically Take the Hit Both in Canada and in the U.S., state and federal agencies are most likely to end up bearing the brunt of costs for cleanups after train derailments. The Superfund program was established primarily to deal with unremediated toxic waste in industrial environments but has increasingly been called upon to manage the aftermath of oil train spills and other railroad accidents. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also involved in both the practical aspects of cleanup and the determination of fault in derailments and spills. These government efforts are funded by taxpayer dollars and may reduce the financial resources available for other programs and services. If you or someone you love has been affected indirectly or directly by the environmental effects of oil and chemical spills in the workplace or closer to home, seeking legal counsel can provide added help in seeking compensation for these injuries and losses. A Houston work injury attorney can offer real support in the courtroom setting and in out-of-court negotiations with insurance adjusters and employers, allowing you to achieve a fair settlement. This can allow you and your family to ensure that those responsible for spills and derailments pay at least a small amount of the damages caused by their negligence and neglect.