Norfolk Southern agrees to $600m settlement in East Palestine train derailment lawsuits

Company will pay residents and businesses, but it has not admitted fault or liability for the derailment

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 09 April 2024 21:08 BST
Related video: Crews continue clean-up on train tracks after derailment in East Palestine, Ohio

Norfolk Southern has reached a $600m settlement that will – if approved – resolve all lawsuits brought against the company by thousands of residents within 20 miles of East Palestine, Ohio, where one of the company's trains derailed in February 2023 and spilled more than a million pound of hazardous chemicals – including vinyl chloride – into the surrounding area.

The company has not admitted liability or wrongdoing in the settlement, CNN reports.

The funds from the settlement are intended to serve as a pot from which businesses and individuals can pay for any harm – including healthcare costs – that resulted from the derailment and subsequent spill.

“Individuals and businesses will be able to use compensation from the settlement in any manner they see fit to address potential adverse impacts from the derailment,” the company said in a statement. “This could include healthcare needs and medical monitoring, property restoration and diminution, and compensation for any net business loss.”

Under the language of the settlement, residents within 10 miles of the derailment site will be eligible for additional compensation.

The plaintiffs said they planned to file a motion asking a judge to approve the settlement within 10 days. Attorneys representing the claimants said they hope to see payments sent out by the end of 2024.

“We believe this is a fair, reasonable and adequate result for the community on a number of levels, not the least of which is the speed of the resolution, and the overall amount of awards residents can expect, which will be significant for those most impacted by the derailment,” attorneys representing the claimants said in a joint statement.

Beth Graham, one of the attorneys representing the claimants, said her team has received an "overwhelmingly positive" response from East Palestine residents regarding the settlement, The New York Times reports.

“The community as a whole has been grateful and relieved that this is the first step in putting this behind them and getting them some sort of compensation,” she said in the interview.

A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains (AP)

Norfolk Southern has spent $104m paying community assistance money to the affected region, and an additional $4.3m to upgrade the drinking water infrastructure in the area. In addition, the company paid $500,000 for economic development in the city.

Residents of East Palestine – a small Ohio town of 5,000 – reported health problems following the derailment that included burning and watering eyes, tingling in their lips, chest heaviness, and swelling in their lymph nodes.

While the settlement, if approved, will close out numerous individual lawsuits against Norfolk Southern, the company is still facing a lawsuit from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. That lawsuit focuses on alleged environmental damages caused by the derailment as a result of the company's actions.

Mr Yost said he would not settle the suit "without a detailed understanding of what happened, who is responsible, and how we avoid other communities like East Palestine from being victims to this type of incident," reports The New York Times.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the incident and has not yet filed its final report.

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