Residents of the Ohio town of East Palestine filed a class action lawsuit against railway company Norfolk Southern on Wednesday, the latest in a wave of litigation the public company is facing over the disastrous 3 February derailment.
The latest lawsuit alleges that efforts by the company and local and state authorities to clean up after the crash actually worsened the situation, and demands punitive damages and medical monitoring.
The case filed by law firm Morgan & Morgan demands punitive damages and medical monitoring, alleging authorities “purportedly blew holes in the cars containing vinyl chloride, dumping 1.1 million pounds (500,000kgs) of vinyl chloride” into the area.
“I’m not sure Norfolk Southern could have come up with a worse plan to address this disaster,” attorney John Morgan said in a statement. “Residents exposed to vinyl chloride may already be undergoing DNA mutations that could linger for years or even decades before manifesting as terrible and deadly cancers.”
At least five class action negligence lawsuits have now been filed by residents and business owners who were impacted by the fiery chemical train derailment.
A public meeting was held in East Palestine on Wednesday night to address residents’ concerns — which Norfolk Southern representatives refused to attend out of safety fears.
“We’re all very afraid,” one woman in attendance said.
The lawsuit filed in the the United States District Court claims that Norfolk Southern blasted the town with chemicals as it prioritised restoring train service and protecting its shareholders over residents’ health.
It goes on to allege by setting the spilled chemicals on fire, it created a 1-million-pound-plus chemical burn pit, and released Phosgene Gas into the atmosphere.
“From chemicals that cause nausea and vomiting to a substance responsible for the majority of chemical warfare deaths during World War I, the people of East Palestine and the surrounding communities are facing an unprecedented array of threats to their health,” the law firm said in a statement.
Plaintiffs are seeking relief including medical monitoring, injunctive and declaratory relief, punitive damages, and damages related to injuries, emotional distress, loss of property value, and increased risks of future illness.
A Norfolk Southern spokesperson told The Independent they were unable to comment on the litigation.
They provided an earlier quote from Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw, who said the company was “committed to East Palestine today and in the future”.
“We will be judged by our actions. We are cleaning up the site in an environmentally responsible way, reimbursing residents affected by the derailment, and working with members of the community to identify what is needed to help East Palestine recover and thrive,” Mr Shaw said.
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