Prove your humanity

By Abigail Bottar, Zaria Johnson | Ideastream Public Media

Norfolk Southern has reached a $600 million settlement agreement to resolve a consolidated class action lawsuit related to the East Palestine train derailment last year, according to a press release from the company.

If approved by the court, the agreement will resolve all class action claims within a 20-mile radius of the derailment.

After the Feb. 3, 2023, derailment that spilled toxic chemicals into the small town near the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania, residents from East Palestine and surrounding communities filed lawsuits and sought legal counsel. Those suits were eventually consolidated into one class action suit.

The suit alleges Norfolk Southern operated an unsafe train that hadn’t been inspected. The number of residents in the suit is estimated to be in the thousands.

East Palestine: One Year Later

“This is another promise kept by Norfolk Southern to make it right for the people of East Palestine and the surrounding communities,” the company said in a press release, adding that it has already launched programs to address drinking water and home values, two long-term concerns of residents.

The release states the company is going further in this settlement to provide additional monetary relief for individuals and businesses.

The settlement also includes an option for residents within 10 miles of the settlement to receive additional compensation for any past, current or future personal injury from the derailment, the press release states.

However, the settlement does not go so far as to place liability, wrongdoing or fault on Norfolk Southern for the derailment, according to the press release.

Jami Wallace with the Unity Council for the East Palestine Train Derailment said she’s disappointed the settlement doesn’t include any accountability from Norfolk Southern, as issues of health and environmental safety remain unresolved.

“How are you settling when the issue’s still there?” Wallace asked.

The settlement isn’t a done deal, said attorney Jayne Conroy with Simmons Hanly Conroy, a national law firm working on the lawsuit.

“If many people object, Norfolk Southern may decide not to settle,” she said. “They have the ability to back out if it does not include enough people as well.”

Norfolk Southern plans to submit the settlement for preliminary approval to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio this month, according to the press release.

Once the settlement is approved by the court, payments could begin by the end of the year. Payments will be determined by court-appointed class counsel.

“The recoveries will be based entirely on conversations and documentation from residents and others,” Conroy said. “We do not have ranges for individuals and businesses at this point.”

Norfolk Southern has spent $104 million in community relief to East Palestine and the surrounding areas, including $25 million for a regional safety training center, $25 million in improvements to the East Palestine city park, $21 million in direct payment to residents and $9 million to local first responders, the company said.

Additionally, the company has spent $4.3 million to upgrade drinking water infrastructure, $2 million for community-directed projects, $500,000 for economic development and ongoing support through the Family Assistance Center and Interim Value Assurance Program.

Oliver Morrison with WESA contributed to this reporting.