Ever since 38 Norfolk Southern railcars derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 3, 2023, news of the accident has been making headlines around the country. The incident has emerged as potentially one of the most devastating environmental disasters ever in the United States. And new information keeps coming in every day.
As soon as the news was released that 20 of the derailed cars were carrying hazardous materials, environmental attorneys Frank Petosa and Rene Rocha of Morgan and Morgan took action. Within days, they were speaking directly to potential victims of the disaster in East Palestine and nearby areas.
Understanding the Extent of the Disaster
The East Palestine train derailment differed from many of the other derailments that have been in the news in past years because of the cargo the train was carrying. When an Amtrak train derailed in 2022, dozens of people were hurt or killed, but the community wasn’t significantly impacted over the long term.
The East Palestine incident is different because 20 of the train cars were carrying hazardous materials.
As Petosa and Rocha explained to Time Magazine, these chemicals represent serious health threats to the community. At least one of these chemicals is the principal ingredient in mustard gas, and another has been linked to liver cancer.
If the chemicals had simply spilled and soaked into the earth, it would have been bad enough. But a fire after the accident released some of these chemicals into the air.
The actions of Norfolk Southern only served to exacerbate the disaster. Because of the fire, the train company was concerned that the cars would explode. To prevent this, Norfolk Southern released an unknown amount of vinyl chloride from the cars into a burn pit and lit it on fire.
This action prevented an explosion but also released a toxic chemical into the air through massive smoke plumes.
According to a filing by attorneys in a class action lawsuit, the estimated amount of vinyl chloride released into the air in this burn was more than twice the amount emitted during all of 2021.
Norfolk Southern’s Responsibility
At this time, attorneys from Morgan & Morgan have filed multiple lawsuits against Norfolk Southern due to multiple instances of alleged negligence in this incident.
To begin with, the accident was entirely preventable. Morgan and Morgan alleges that Norfolk Southern failed to take appropriate safety measures to prevent the derailment. Both the tracks and train cars were unsafe, and the train company’s failure to maintain the train’s wheels directly led to the events of February 3.
Furthermore, the company’s response was not only inadequate but may also have worsened conditions in the area. Vinyl chloride is most dangerous when inhaled, and burning the substance ensured that it entered the air and likely spread farther than it would have otherwise, according to Murray McBride, professor emeritus at Cornell.
There were more options than creating a burn pit, but they would have cost more. The attorneys at Morgan & Morgan contend that Norfolk Southern chose the cheapest option rather than the safest.
The company tried to spin the action as a “controlled burn,” but Rocha testified before the Pennsylvania Senate that there was nothing controlled about the action.
How the Accident Is Affecting the Community
Within hours of the crash, officials evacuated everyone within one mile of the accident. People who were evacuated couldn’t return to their homes and businesses for two days. That equals hundreds of people who lost income and had to pay for lodging and transportation.
Norfolk Southern created a $2 million fund to help with evacuation costs, but even with the company making individual $1,000 payments to affected residents of East Palestine, many people are out of money after the accident. And the train company has only allotted another $1 million to help the community further.
This amount is not even close to enough to pay for the losses that many residents have already experienced or will experience in the future. Business owners throughout the area report that they are facing losses as people flee the area or don’t want to deal with the traffic created by cleanup crews.
Additionally, despite assurances that major waterways haven’t been affected by toxic chemicals, people are still concerned. More than 3,000 fish were killed in the initial spill, and ash from the smoke clouds continues to rain down on supplies of fresh water.
Furthermore, the EPA has advised owners of private wells to avoid drinking the water until it can be tested. Between that advisory and a general lack of trust from residents, locals are spending hundreds of dollars to purchase bottled water.
Business owners in the area worry that these factors will eventually lead to a mass exodus, which will, in turn, destroy the economy. If this happens, some people could face millions of dollars in losses.
And then there are the health issues. Several residents of East Palestine and nearby areas have reported difficulty breathing, coughing, and headaches since the derailment. While some officials have claimed that there’s no threat or that the threat is minimal, these symptoms place doubt on those assurances.
Pennsylvania officials aren’t as hopeful. Criminal charges have already been filed against the train company, and the Pennsylvania Senate has held hearings to determine the effects of the accident. Senator Doug Mastriano believes Norfolk Southern needs to pay more for the incident and provide greater transparency.
Norfolk Southern Faces Multiple Lawsuits
At Morgan and Morgan, we agree with Senator Mastriano that Norfolk Southern needs to pay for the consequences of its actions. Our attorneys have already filed multiple lawsuits for plaintiffs in both Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Norfolk Southern may have allotted $1 million to help the community, but that amount likely won’t even cover one of the lawsuits we’ve filed. Many of our clients are already experiencing dizziness and headaches, which suggests that they may have absorbed the carcinogenic gas vinyl chloride.
If this is true, these same clients may be facing a rare form of liver cancer in the future. That will mean thousands of dollars of medical bills and a lifetime of pain. We are fighting to get our clients damages now so that they have the funds to pay for this treatment before it starts.
We are also representing clients facing economic ruin due to this accident. It’s hard to predict how the outcome will affect East Palestine in the long run, but we have already seen some businesses shut down due to the accident. For example, a water bottling plant in western Pennsylvania is currently closed due to the risk of contamination.
At this time, we have no clue how long these lawsuits will take or how many more will be filed as more details emerge. Attorneys Petosa and Rocha are dedicated to righting this wrong and bringing justice to the many people harmed by this preventable accident. They will devote themselves to this effort for as long as it takes.
And they will not be working alone. Morgan and Morgan will allocate as many resources as are required to help our clients. We are committed to winning as much money for our clients as we can and helping them return to a normal life.
Q. How Do I Join a Class Action Lawsuit?
Contact Morgan and Morgan to schedule a free case evaluation. If your situation is similar to others who are part of the class action lawsuit, we will add you to the litigant class.
Q. Can I File a Lawsuit as an Individual?
Yes. Everyone has different circumstances. If your case is uniquely different, you may not qualify for a class action lawsuit but may be eligible to sue Norfolk Southern independently.
Q. Can I Only Sue if I Live in Eastern Ohio or Western Pennsylvania?
No. So far, litigants have been from those areas because they were the first affected. But others may be affected by the actions of Norfolk Southern. For example, the company has transported wastewater to Texas to be decontaminated. If that action results in harm to people living in Texas, they may be eligible to sue.
Act Now to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones
While the legal process is likely to take years, if you think you have been affected by the East Palestine accident or will be in the future, act quickly to protect yourself. It will only get harder to take action against the train company as the years pass.
Even if you don’t believe that you’ve been harmed, the best thing you can do right now is to consult with a Morgan & Morgan attorney. We will collect your information and determine whether you are currently eligible for compensation. If you aren’t, we will retain your records and notify you if circumstances change.
If you are eligible, the faster you start legal proceedings, the more money you are likely to receive. Waiting just gives Norfolk Southern more time to hide behind lawyers and red tape.
Contact Morgan & Morgan today to schedule a free case evaluation. It won’t cost you a penny, but it can bring you peace of mind.