SCRANTON – The Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County entered a summary judgment on March 24, ruling that Norfolk Southern Railway Co. cannot be subject to liability as a successor in interest to another company in an asbestos lawsuit.
Plaintiff Jerome Pronitis of Dunmore, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2015, worked for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad and the Erie Lackawanna Railroad, among several other rail companies, in a railroad career that began in 1948 and ended in early 1990.
After receiving his mesothelioma diagnosis, Pronitis filed a lawsuit against Delaware, Lackawanna & Western's successor-in-interest Consolidated Rail Corp. on July 9, 2015.
The common pleas court’s order said Erie Lackawanna filed bankruptcy in 1972. Consolidated Rail subsequently acquired Erie Lackawanna’s assets in 1976. Norfolk Southern and CSX Corp. purchased all of Consolidated Rail’s stock in 1998.
In addition to claiming that it could not be held liable as successor-in-interest for the “now-defunct” Erie-Lackawanna Railroad, the court said Norfolk Southern argued in its summary judgment motion that “plaintiff Jerome Pronitis has not established sufficient evidence that he had been exposed to asbestos during his employment necessary to sustain his claim under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act.”
Specifically, the court ruled that Norfolk Southern cannot be held liable for Pronitis’ alleged asbestos exposure “merely because it is the current owner of Erie-Lackawanna assets.”
“Doing so ignores integral principals of Pennsylvania corporate law,” the court said in its ruling.
According to the ruling, Pronitis was never a Norfolk Southern employee, and, at the time CSX and Norfolk Southern bought the previous Erie-Lackawanna successor-in-interest, the plaintiff had been retired for almost 10 years.
In its ruling, the court said “it is a pillar of law in this commonwealth that ‘when one company sells or transfers all of its assets to another company, the purchasing or receiving company is not responsible for the debts and liabilities of the selling company simply because it acquired the seller’s property.’”