SNOW HILL – Owners of a house on Basket Switch Rd. near Newark
this week filed suit against the Maryland
and Delaware Railroad Company and its president seeking nearly $1 million for
damages to their home and disruption of their lives allegedly caused by a train
derailment along Route 113 nearly three years ago.
The co-owners of the house on Basket Switch Rd., Cleo K.
Sundstrom and Donna M. Lawrence, filed suit on Monday in Worcester County
Circuit Court asking a judge to intercede on their behalf after three years of
frustration with the railroad and insurance companies. The two women prepared
and filed the detailed and comprehensive complaint on their own when they could
not find an attorney to represent them in the case.
Sundstrom and Lawrence jointly bought the house on Basket Switch Rd.
in July 2004 for $145,000. Seven months later, on February 25, 2005, a Maryland and Delaware Railroad Co. freight train
traveling along the tracks that cross Route 113 just south of Newark and continue along parallel to Route
113 derailed, toppling 50 cars carrying 800 tons of grain along the highway and
near adjacent properties.
Eight of the train cars ended up in or near the front yard
of the house in question on Basket
Switch Rd., shaking the home from its foundation
and causing irreparable damage to the structure built in 1900, according to
state department of assessment and taxation records. According to the suit
filed on Monday, Sundstrom and Lawrence have exhausted all attempts for relief
from the railroad and the insurance company in the nearly three years since the
train wreck and are now appealing to a Worcester County
judge to intercede on their behalf.
“Your honor, you are out last hope,” the complaint reads.
“We did not buy this home in this condition. We pray your relief to make
ourselves whole again,” the complaint reads. “We have had nothing but upheaval
since the train wreck. Our quiet lives were abruptly interrupted and we have
not been the same since.”
Although it is somewhat unusual, Sundstrom and Lawrence
prepared and filed the thorough complaint, complete with detailed pre-accident
appraisals, witness testimony, correspondence and dozens of photographs,
themselves without the assistance of an attorney. The two women filed the
unusual first-person complaint after several failed attempts to have an
attorney take their case.
“I have tried to get help for the past two years and 10
months and it has been like hitting a brick wall,” said Sundstrom in the
complaint. “We have tried to retain several lawyers, but no one will go against
The suit claims as many as eight of the derailed box cars
ended up on their property, shifting the house and its foundation at least
eight different times. The complaint includes a detailed list of the problems
that arose in the house after the accident such as the floors are “spongy”
throughout the home, the staircase is leaning, the floor upstairs slopes, a
bedroom window will not stay shut and many of the floors have dropped about two
inches. In one room, the complaint asserts the floor moves up and down and they
can feel it move when the dog walks across it.
Sundstrom said three months before the train wreck she
approached a railroad employee inspecting the tracks and pointed out hollow
timbers and the soil that had washed away under the tracks. She was allegedly
told there was nothing wrong with the track and “the train ain’t going
anywhere.” Three months later, the train derailed and the accident was blamed
on broken rail that went undetected during a recent inspection.
After the accident, Sundstrom and Lawrence allegedly tried
to contact the railroad several times. Sundstrom finally ran into MDDE
president Eric Callaway, who is named as a defendant in the suit, in the Newark
Station store and he agreed to come look at the house. Callaway allegedly told
the women the house was old and had seen better days, according to the
complaint. Callaway could not be reached for comment.
When Sundstrom and Lawrence bought the house in July 2004,
their intent was to live in it along with Lawrence’s
elderly mother. After the accident, according to the suit, the elderly woman
could not live in the house and her daughter could not properly care for her
and she died soon after. Lawrence eventually
moved to Florida,
leaving Sundstrom behind to deal with the lawsuit.
The suit is seeking a total of $910,249 including over
$390,000 for the cost of a replacement home, the removal of the old home, the
amount of rent for a year while the new home is constructed, various county
water and sewer hook-ups and other costs associated with rectifying the
situation. The suit is also seeking another $510,000-plus in pain and suffering
damages, interrupted payments on the existing loan for the house, emotional
distress and lawyer fees among other expenses.
“We cannot sell this home,” the complaint reads. “Where
would we go and who would buy a broken home? We still have a mortgage to pay.
We’ve had to put our lives on hold in order to spend the time and money trying
to fix our house. We’ve also endured a lack of respect from insurance people as
well as representatives of the railroad.”