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

todayApril 9, 2024

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(NEW YORK) — Norfolk Southern has agreed to a $600 million settlement to resolve a class action lawsuit related to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, in February 2023.

The settlement still needs to be approved by a judge.

“If approved by the court, the agreement will resolve all class action claims within a 20-mile radius from the derailment and, for those residents who choose to participate, personal injury claims within a 10-mile radius from the derailment,” Norfolk Southern said in a statement.

The spill forced hundreds of nearby residents out of their homes and sparked fears, as five tankers carried vinyl chloride, which posed serious health risks, burned, sending a massive plume of black smoke into the sky. Burning vinyl chloride can create dioxins, which are carcinogenic, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Two days after the crash, residents were evacuated over fears the tankers could explode. The evacuation order was lifted on Feb. 9, with the EPA saying the air had returned to normal levels.

Norfolk Southern outlined how the settlement will be split up: $104 million for community assistance, including $25 million for a regional safety center, $21 million for a park, $21 million in direct payments to residents and $9 million to first responders; $4.3 million to improve water infrastructure; $2 million for “community-directed projects”; and a $500,000 grant for economic development.

“The agreement is designed to provide finality and flexibility for settlement class members,” the company wrote. “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. This could include healthcare needs and medical monitoring, property restoration and diminution, and compensation for any net business loss.”

No one was injured in the derailment itself, but residents of the area have complained about a variety of nagging health issues in the months after the crash.

Ashley McCollum, a resident of East Palestine who lived in a hotel for a year after the derailment and chemical leak, told ABC News earlier this year that her family has experienced issues including “rashing, numbness and tingling in your mouth, ear pain, blood in your ears, hair loss.”

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report from its ongoing investigation into the derailment two weeks after the crash, saying surveillance video showed “what appeared to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment.” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy called the derailment “100% preventable,” and said it was “no accident.”

The plaintiffs in the case released a joint statement saying the settlement “will provide substantial compensation to all affected residents, property owners, employees and businesses residing, owning or otherwise having a legal interest in property, working, owning or operating a business for damages resulting from the derailment and release of chemicals.”

“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 the awards residents can expect, which will be significant for those most impacted by the derailment,” said Seth A. Katz of Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, M. Elizabeth Graham of Grant & Eisenhofer, Jayne Conroy of Simmons Hanly Conroy, and T. Michael Morgan of Morgan & Morgan.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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