Class action lawsuit filed in train derailment, controlled chemical release in East Palestine

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — A federal class action lawsuit has been filed against the railway company accused in Friday’s train derailment that displaced several communities around the area.

The suit, filed Tuesday, accuses Norfolk Southern Railway Co. of “negligence.” The plaintiffs are listed as a business owner, two evacuated residents and “all others similarly situated.”

According to the filing, the impacted business owner was forced to close shop amid the evacuation and “suffered damages” as a result.

The suit also claims that one of the residents listed as a plaintiff “suffered injuries as a direct and proximate result of his exposure to the toxic chemicals and fumes emanating from the accident site.”

The suit is seeking at least $5 million for the people affected by the train derailment.

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The lawsuit claimed that because of the derailment, which included 100 train cars with 10 to 20 carrying hazardous materials, people were “involuntarily displaced” from their homes and businesses in the evacuation zone that spread up to two miles from the site.

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According to the suit, Norfolk Southern’s negligence includes:

  • failing to maintain and inspect its tracks;
  • failing to maintain and inspect its rail cars;
  • failing to provide appropriate instruction and training to its employees;
  • failing to provide sufficient employees to safely and reasonably operate its trains;
  • and failing to reasonably warn the general public.

Some of the train cars that derailed and caught fire were carrying hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride.

According to the suit, vinyl chloride is a chemical that’s unstable and could explode. A five minute exposure to vinyl chloride at 8,000 parts-per-million in the air can cause dizziness. If the concentration is increased to 20,000 parts-per-million, people exposed can experience drowsiness, loss of coordination, visual and auditory abnormalities, disorientation, nausea, headache and burning or tingling of the extremities. Higher concentrations can cause death.

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The suit said exposure to vinyl chloride can also increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer as well as primary liver cancer, brain and lung cancers, lymphoma and leukemia.

The lawsuit said it represents people who, at the time of the derailment, owned, rented, resided or operated a business in and around East Palestine and surrounding areas who were forced by police to leave their homes during the chemical spill as well as people who were physically injured as a result of the chemicals. They also were prevented from going back to their homes or businesses afterward.

The lawsuit also said Norfolk Southern knew or should have known that its activities would put residents and property owners at risk of harm unless reasonable car was put in place to prevent harm.

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Because the rail company disregarded the rights and safety of the community’s people by implementing actions that could cause substantial harm, they’re liable for damages, the suit said. It also said this was breaking the law.

Part of the suit also claimed that by letting toxic fumes, chemicals, carcinogens, odors and hazardous substances to invade the property of East Palestine residents and business owners, the invasions are considered trespassing because the people didn’t authorize or consent to the toxins invading their properties.

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The lawsuit asked for Norfolk Southern to be transparent in their investigation toward the derailment, including the immediate and complete disclosure of all studies, reports, analyses, data, compilations and other similar information regarding the vinyl chloride release. This also includes preventing the company from removing any property from the derailment which could benefit the plaintiffs or their experts in finding the cause of the accident and preventing Norfolk Southern from deleting any records about the train for a 72-hour period preceding the incident.

The lawsuit seeks “compensatory damages” among other awards.

An attorney with Shapero Roloff Co, one of the firms that filed the suit, told Channel 11 on Wednesday that they will not be commenting on the litigation.

A spokesman for Norfolk Southern, reached by phone, also told Channel 11 that they cannot comment on pending litigation.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh-based firm, Edgar Snyder & Associates, has also received calls from people who have been impacted by the events in East Palestine.

Partner Brad Trust said his firm is closely monitoring the situation and determining the best next steps to protect their clients.

“I would urge people in the community who have been affected by this train derailment and potential exposure to vinyl chloride to contact an attorney and discuss with that attorney what they can do to protect themselves now and moving forward,” said Trust.