Norfolk Southern agrees to pay $600 million settlement in eastern Ohio train derailment

Norfolk Southern has agreed to pay $600 million in a class-action lawsuit related to a fiery February 2023 train derailment in eastern Ohio.

The company said Tuesday that the agreement, if approved by the court, will resolve all class action claims within a 20-mile radius of the derailment and, for residents who choose to participate, personal injury claims within a radius of 16 kilometers around the derailment. derailment.

Norfolk Southern added that individuals and businesses can use compensation from the settlement in any way they see fit to address the potential negative impacts of the derailment, including health care needs, property restoration and compensation for any net business loss. Individuals within 10 miles of the derailment may, at their sole discretion, elect to receive additional compensation for any past, present or future personal damages resulting from the derailment.

The company said the settlement does not include or constitute any admission of liability, wrongdoing or culpability.

Norfolk Southern has already spent more than $1.1 billion responding to the derailment, including more than $104 million in direct assistance to East Palestine and its residents. Partly because Norfolk Southern is paying for the cleanup costs, President Joe Biden has never declared a disaster in East Palestine, which is a sore point for many residents. The railroad has promised to establish a fund to help pay for the community’s long-term health needs, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Last week, federal officials said the aftermath of the train derailment does not qualify as a public health emergency because widespread health problems and ongoing chemical exposure have not been documented.

The Environmental Protection Agency never approved that designation after the Norfolk Southern derailment in February 2023, even though the disaster forced the evacuation of half the city of East Palestine and caused widespread fear about the potential long-term health effects of the chemicals that leaked and burned. Contamination concerns were exacerbated by the decision to blow up five tankers filled with vinyl chloride and burn that toxic chemical three days after the derailment.

The head of the National Transportation Safety Board recently said her agency’s investigation found that venting and burning vinyl chloride was unnecessary because the company that produced the chemical was confident no dangerous chemical reaction was taking place in the tankers. But the officials who made the decision have said they were never told that.

The NTSB’s full investigation into the cause of the derailment won’t be complete until June, although that agency has said an overheated wheel bearing on one of the train cars, which was not detected in time by a track sensor, likely caused the crash.

The EPA has said cleanup efforts in eastern Palestine are expected to be completed sometime later this year.