Norfolk Southern Class Action Lawsuit Filed by Families Forced to Evacuate During Ohio Toxic Train Derailment

Area residents filed a class action against Norfolk Southern, seeking compensatory damages and medical monitoring for anyone within 30 miles of the train derailment

A group of individuals from East Palestine, Ohio have filed a class action lawsuit against Norfolk Southern over a toxic train derailment near their homes, which resulted in residents being evacuated from the area and caused them to suffer other damages.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by numerous area residents on March 21, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, seeking class action status to pursue claims for all residents and business owners who suffered damages when they were forced to evacuate due to the risk of toxic chemical exposure.

On February 3, a massive Norfolk Southern train derailed near Ohio and Pennsylvania borders, resulting in 20 tankers full of toxic chemicals being breached and catching fire.

This caused a temporary evacuation of nearly 2,000 local residents, and there have been growing reports of illnesses at the train derailment site, as well as a number of animal deaths and concerns about water, soil and air contamination in a wide area around the accident location.

While the investigation of the crash continues and health experts evaluate the long-term health risks, Norfolk Southern toxic train derailment lawsuits are being filed by those impacted, including claims for economic damages, medical monitoring and personal injuries.

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This latest complaint blames Norfolk Southern for a laundry list of errors and mistakes which led to the crash and the subsequent toxic exposures.

According to the Norfolk Southern class action lawsuit, the 141-car train was back-loaded with 40% of its weight at the rear, while lighter cars were placed between the heavy rear tankers and the engine in front, which increased the risk of a derailment. In addition, the lawsuit indicates the train was on fire 20 miles before it reached East Palestine, where it derailed.

Investigators so far have determined that a railcar axle failed when a wheel bearing overheated, causing the fire, which resulted in the use of the emergency brake, and the subsequent derailment. Plaintiffs claim the resulting fire, leaking tankers and controlled release and burn of the chemicals led to toxic plumes contaminating the air, soil and water near plaintiffs’ homes and businesses.

“Upon information and belief, approximately 1 million pounds of vinyl chloride which were in the train cars that derailed and was spilled or dumped onto the ground near the derailment site and set on fire,” the lawsuit states. “Fumes, sediment, and a rise in particulate pollution from the derailment, fire, toxic chemical disbursement, and subsequent explosion, have been reported throughout an area encompassing at least 30 miles around the derailment site.”

The lawsuit seeks to represent not only those evacuated, but anyone adversely affected within a 30-mile radius of the accident.

Medical Monitoring and Compensation Sought

While none of the plaintiffs linked to the lawsuit to date have reported a physical injury from the train accident, the lawsuit seeks to require Norfolk Southern to supply medical monitoring and testing for those who may have been exposed to vinyl chloride and other toxic substances as a result of the derailment.

In addition, plaintiffs seek relief and compensation for claims of negligence, strict liability, private and public nuisance, statutory nuisance, trespass, and willful and wanton conduct.

The lawsuit comes shortly after the Ohio Attorney General filed a complaint against Norfolk Southern over the train derailment, seeking to force Norfolk Southern to pay for cleanup costs, health side effects and environmental damages, as well as punitive damages for an accident the state claims could have been prevented.

Norfolk Southern Train Derailment Investigations

Not only does Norfolk Southern face legal claims over the accident, but is also under investigation by other parts of the government as well.

Late last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent a response team from its Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which began interviewing residents about their health concerns and symptoms they have developed since the accident.

On February 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a notice to Norfolk Southern, announcing it was considering to make the company pay for the cleanup costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Since then, EPA officials have said in live interviews that they will definitely require Norfolk Southern to pay for those costs.

The company also faces increasing criticism from Congress and the Department of Transportation over what appears to be a cavalier attitude toward safety in order to maximize profits, resulting in increased pressure for new safety requirements and regulations regarding rail transport of hazardous materials.

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