Suit filed over bridge collapse and detour

A sign in the middle of Cypress Gardens Road indicates it was closed after an April 28 train derailment that destroyed a bridge near Bushy Park Road in Berkeley County.

More than two dozen people in Berkeley County want CSX Transportation to pay them for the time and money they've lost since one of its trains knocked out a Moncks Corner bridge, leading to an inconvenient obstacle to their commutes.

More than 30 people so far have joined a suit against CSX filed Thursday in Berkeley County, according to Christopher Biering, who is representing the plaintiffs.

Biering also has filed a request to certify the case as a class-action suit.

CSX officials said they don't typically comment on pending litigation.

The suit alleges the train derailment on April 28 that led to the destruction of the bridge on Cypress Gardens Road was caused by negligence, according to the complaint.

The alleged negligence included the operation and maintenance of the train, and defects in the operation and maintenance of the track system and one or more of the cars, the complaint stated.

Several people who traveled the bridge regularly for work, school, business or recreation now have to drive a more circuitous alternate route, costing them time and money in travel, the complaint stated.

"You've got people that are having to add five to 10 additional hours per week in their commute time, having to spend additional money for fuel and you're taking these dollars out of the pockets of working-class people who can't simply work more to make more money," Biering said.

The complaint alleges that under a state statute, CSX is liable to pay each person affected by the bridge blockage up to $20 a day and not less than $5 a day.

"Those affected shouldn't have to bear the costs for the negligence and actions of CSX," Biering said. "We want people to be fully compensated for their losses."

Cypress Gardens, which is owned by Berkeley County and is about two miles past the bridge blockage, has not joined the lawsuit, but county leaders hope CSX will pay for the lost revenue and expenses incurred.

Deputy County Supervisor Kace Smith said they have noticed a decrease in attendance at the public gardens and event destination but haven't yet figured out exactly how much money and how many visitors the detour has cost them.

Cypress Gardens leaders are currently working on collecting that data to present to CSX, she said.

County leaders recently spoke with CSX at a meeting with the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

"It appeared like they would be very accommodating," Smith said.

Cypress Gardens employees have also been affected with a longer, 22-mile, trip, Smith said.

Since the bridge became inaccessible, the gardens have only had one event cancellation, according to Smith, who said they've been fortunate on that front.

Smith said this weekend's scheduled plant sale will be a good gauge for comparison in the revenue they may be losing.

The spring season is one of the garden's busiest times of year, according to the Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce.

School field trips bring a significant number of visitors - about 10,000 each year - to the gardens, said Director Dwight Williams. But the number of tourists also has been growing, now topping 50,000 annually. Swamp boat tours and a butterfly house are some of Cypress Gardens' other attractions.

The property also has struggled financially, ending 2008 some $800,000 in debt. Critics have argued the site should be closed, and proponents have circulated petitions to keep it open.

In an effort to reduce frustrations among visitors of the gardens, Cypress Gardens asked Google for help, according to Smith.

The Internet company adjusted the route on Google Maps to the gardens, she said.

"We really want people to get to Cypress Gardens easily and know how to get there," she said. "We don't need visitors getting aggravated."

The gardens have also posted a detour map on their website.

Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or