ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled Tuesday that a Baltimore woman burned by sulfuric acid in an on- the-job railroad accident two years ago must be given a jury trial in her case against CSX Transportation Inc.
CSX employee Traci L. Castro, 29, sued the company after sulfuric acid sprayed from a defective tank car onto her head, face, chest and hands at the Curtis Bay Yard facility in Baltimore, where she worked inspecting for mechanical defects in inbound trains.
A Baltimore Circuit Court judge denied Castro a jury trial and ruled in favor of CSX in October 1994.
Castro’s lawyers appealed based on the Federal Employers Liability Act, which says that if an employer’s negligence played any part in the employee’s injury or death, the case must be submitted to a jury.
“As soon as I heard the opinion I called Ms. Castro. Oh, if you could have heard her….She was thrilled really, just thrilled and near tears,” said Walton Bondurant Jr., Castro’s attorney. “She has been badly scarred from the acid, both physically and mentally. And I am thrilled that the court of appeals saw fit to support our wish for Ms. Castro to have a jury hear her case.”
During the case, Castro’s lawyers argued that a “reasonable inspection” by CSX would have uncovered a defect in the train’s tank cars posing a serious threat to its employees. They also said that the lighting at the job site was inadequate for Castro to perform her job.
CSX’s attorneys claim that Castro had enough light from overhead lights and a railroad lantern. “We will seek further review of this case,” said Stephen B. Caplis, the attorney representing the company.
According to testimony in court documents, Castro, a trainee brake person, was working at 1 a.m. on August 26, 1993 when a train containing sulfuric acid came in from Quebec.
Sulfuric acid is an oily, colorless corrosive liquid used in making dyes, paints, explosives and fertilizers. Contact with the skin can result in charring, ulceration and, if severe, scarring, said Anne Tschirg, a certified specialist in poison at the Maryland Poison Center.
Castro’s lawyers argued that the darkness veiled any defects as she and other employees inspected the cars by the light of a lantern provided by CSX.
Then a valve gasket atop one of the tank cars failed without warning, unleashing sulfuric acid onto the majority of Castro’s upper body. Castro frantically removed her safety glasses and gloves and began screaming.
Other CSX employees heard her cries and poured water over her from coolers located in the train. But Castro suffered severe burns to her scalp and hand, and severe scarring.
A standard mechanical inspection conducted after the accident revealed no defects. But a later inspection of the train’s topside revealed a cracked mainway cover gasket on the tank car, which had leaked, as well as evidence of leakage in at least two other cars in the same line, according to court documents. The case will be sent back to the circuit court to be heard by a jury, Bondurant said, adding that he would seek “the earliest possible date.” -30-