Norfolk Southern Agrees to $600 Million Settlement After 2023 Ohio Train Derailment

Gene J. Puskar/AP via CNN Photo Source: Gene J. Puskar/AP via CNN

Railroad company Norfolk Southern has agreed to pay $600 million to end a class action lawsuit filed in 2023 after company train cars derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. The derailment resulted in spilled chemicals, causing a fire that sent dark plumes of smoke into the air. The smoke cast a nightmarish scene that was followed by residents complaining of adverse health symptoms including itching, rashes, and burning eyes. Hundreds of residents were forced to leave their homes while many others say the derailment caused irreversible damage to their community.

If this agreement is approved by the court, it will end all class action claims brought by residents who live within 20 miles of the derailment site. The settlement will also end all personal injury claims within 10 miles of the derailment site. In agreeing to this settlement, the company does not admit any liability for wrongdoing. The settlement subsumed 31 separate cases, and plaintiffs for the class action expect to file a motion with the court to have the settlement approved. Following approval, clients can expect to receive a payout by the end of 2024.

Seth Katz, Elizabeth Graham, Jayne Conroy and T. Michael Morgan, attorneys representing the plaintiffs, shared in a joint statement that “This resolution comes shortly after the one-year anniversary of the disaster and 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."

After the train derailed in February 2023, a flurry of lawsuits was brought forward by residents who lived nearby. The small town of East Palestine is home to roughly 4,800 people; on the day of the derailment, about 2,000 residents were evacuated.

Despite this settlement, many residents say it is not enough. Resident Misti Allison shared with the Associated Press, “What goes through my head is, after all the lawyers are paid and the legal fees are accounted for, how much funding will be provided for families? And is that going to be enough for any of these potential damages moving forward?”

Another resident, Jami Wallace, worries about possible long-term health implications. She shares, “I would really like to see the numbers because in my opinion, taking a plea deal only is in the best interest of the attorneys.” She adds, “They’re all going to get their money. But we’re the residents that are still going to be left to suffer.”

A preliminary investigation conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board investigation reported that 11 tank cars carrying hazardous chemicals went off the track. After the derailment, a fire ignited, sending toxic fumes into the air. Residents who breathed in the air suffered immediate respiratory conditions while others reportedly broke out in rashes and other adverse symptoms. No deaths or injuries were reported after the derailment, and the Environmental Protection Agency never declared a public health emergency, despite residents’ fears of long-term health concerns. The NTSB is near the end of its investigation and plans to conclude and release its final findings this summer.

The $600 million class action settlement comes after Norfolk Southern paid out other fees to remedy the damage the derailment caused. The company paid $104 million to East Palestine and the surrounding areas as a form of community assistance to help with clean-up efforts. Twenty-five million dollars was paid out for improvements to East Palestine, and another $25 million was paid out for a regional safety training center. Impacted residents were also paid $21 million while first responders received $9 million for their clean-up efforts.

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate from James Madison University, where she studied English and Education. Residing in Central Virginia with her husband and two young daughters, she balances her workaholic tendencies with a passion for travel, exploring the world with her family.
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