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Roadside neglected by CSX led to severe injuries, lawsuit alleges

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Cabell County woman alleges in a recent lawsuit that a railroad company failed to maintain an embankment along a state road, which led to an accident that seriously injured her.

Monica Renee Watts, 26, filed the lawsuit last month against CSX Transportation Inc., which owns CSX Railroad, in Cabell Circuit Court.

Her suit alleges CSX failed to maintain an embankment along W.Va. 2, which slipped and "compromised the integrity of the guardrail safety barrier."

When Watts was driving her 1998 Jeep Cherokee home late in the evening on Aug. 11, 2011, her vehicle plunged over the guardrail down a steep embankment onto the CSX railroad tracks below W.Va. 2, according to the suit.

W. Stephen Flesher, Watts' lawyer in Huntington, said Watts' vehicle "flipped down the embankment and ended up close to the Ohio River. She laid there, unconscious, for six hours. In the early morning, when a truck driver saw her and found her, she was unconscious."

The lawsuit, Flesher said, argues CSX "negligently failed to maintain its right-of-way and that it had a duty to maintain its easement, free of nuisance or posing a foreseeable safety hazard to the public and Ms. Watts in particular."

Carla Groleau, communications director for CSX, headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla., said Friday, "CSX has a policy of not commenting about ongoing litigation."

Mary Watts, Monica Watts' mother, said her daughter was unconscious for six weeks at Cabell Huntington Hospital. She was treated at Shepherd Spine Injury Rehab in Atlanta from November 2011 until January 2012, Mary Watts said.

"I never saw her out of a wheelchair until January [of this year]," Mary Watts said. "She has been up and walking ever since. She should be qualified to become a physical therapy assistant sometime soon."

"The accident shattered all my inner eardrums. I had no vision in my right eye," Monica Watts said. "I still have a long way to go. But it is amazing how far I have come working out."

The lawsuit asks for $5 million in damages and a jury trial. Watts' health bills already exceed $1 million, according to Letitia Chafin, another of Watts' lawyers.

The lawsuit also states that Watts suffered "severe and permanent injuries" to her head, neck, back, spine, legs and arms. She has already had several surgeries and will require additional surgical procedures in the future, the lawsuit states.

Sections of W.Va. 2, the lawsuit states, had been deteriorating "over the course of a number of years."

By the time of the accident, W.Va. 2 "consisted of uneven pavement due, in part, to the road surface having slipped and settled ... due to the instability of the soil and earth surface below supporting and providing the foundation of the highway."

CSX, which bought the property near Huntington from the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Co., possesses a "right-of-way easement" 35 feet in each direction from its active railroad tracks, according to the suit.

The lawsuit contends CSX "failed to notify the appropriate authorities at the West Virginia Department of Highways of the ever-deteriorating condition of the right-of-way [and] of the open and obvious compromise of the guardrail safety barrier system."

As a result of slippages and the deterioration of the embankment, "the course of travel of [Watts'] motor vehicle was not impeded by the guardrail safety barrier system as initially designed and constructed," the lawsuit argues.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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