Pond Lehocky Giordano is investigating legal claims on behalf of individuals who were negatively impacted after a Norfolk Southern train derailment on Friday, February 3rd in East Palestine, Ohio near the Pennsylvania border. Upon analyzing the scene, federal investigators announced that rail car axle failure caused about 50 cars to derail, resulting in a smoldering, volatile wreck.
Rail operator Norfolk Southern has confirmed that 20 of the cars on the train were carrying hazardous materials that could potentially pose chemical and environmental risks. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) noted that 10 of these cars derailed, five of which were carrying vinyl chloride. According to the National Cancer Institute, vinyl chloride is associated with increased risk of liver cancer and other cancers. Other cars involved in the derailment carried combustible liquids. On Monday, February 6th, a controlled release and burn of the remaining vinyl chloride was executed.
All local population centers have been advised to evacuate to avoid breathing toxic fumes from the event and EPA teams are working to remove contaminants from nearby waterways. Injuries potentially associated with the derailment include:
- Exposure to Toxic Chemicals
- Shrapnel Lacerations
- Blast Injuries
Our lawyers continue to monitor the Norfolk Southern train accident in East Palestine, Ohio as the situation develops.
Further developments in the Norfolk Southern train derailment
According to CBS News, employees of Norfolk Southern noted that the train broke down at least once on February 1st before ultimately derailing in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3rd. These employees had voiced concerns about the train’s excessive weight and length, which likely played a factor in the train’s initial malfunction and its ultimate derailment. Although a spokesperson for Norfolk Southern refuted the claims about the train’s length and weight, Sarah Feinberg, a former administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, confirmed that the train was about 50% longer than she would deem safe. Employees of Norfolk Southern have also stated that over time, the durations of car inspections have been significantly reduced, workers are extremely fatigued, and no regulations dictate the size of such trains.
Just a week after the Norfolk Southern derailment, residents were told they can return to their homes. However, many have reported and continue to experience respiratory problems, rashes, headaches, and painful coughing. Class action lawsuits are beginning to be filed against Norfolk Southern that allege Norfolk Southern’s actions after the derailment have actually exacerbated the situation. Primarily, they claim that the intentional “toxic release” of 1.1 million pounds of vinyl chloride into East Palestine’s soil and atmosphere was a poor solution to containing the carcinogenic chemical and reducing its impact on the surrounding area. The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that the amount of vinyl chloride released in this incident is more than double the amount that every other industrial source released in the country combined in any given year.
NTSB announces cause of Ohio train derailment
On February 23rd, the NTSB reported that the derailment was caused by an overheated wheel bearing which had reached 253 degrees Fahrenheit above the ambient air temperature. Norfolk Southern’s policies dictate that an engineer should halt the train when a wheel bearing exceeds anything over 170 degrees. According to NBC, NTSB Chairperson Jennifer Homendy said in a statement to reporters that “You cannot wait until they fail. Problems need to be identified early so something catastrophic like this does not occur again […]. This was 100% preventable.” In a statement issued the same day, Norfolk Southern noted that its detectors “trigger an alarm at a temperature threshold that is among the lowest in the rail industry” and that they are cooperating with investigators.
In a letter to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, “The future must not resemble the past when it comes to your company’s and your industry’s follow-through on support for stringent safety policies. Major derailments in the past have been followed by calls for reform – and by vigorous resistance by your industry to increased safety measures. This must change.” Historically, when the industry has been ordered to increase safety measures, railroad lobbying groups would question the necessity of such measures. Railroad companies have even filed lawsuits in opposition to such regulations on many occasions. Currently, some senators are questioning whether the 150-car train that derailed in East Palestine had sufficient crew, as it was only staffed by two rail workers and one trainee.
On Saturday, February 27th, Norfolk Southern was responsible for another train derailment in Lexington, North Carolina. The transport company claimed that no hazardous materials were being carried on the 132-car train and that there was no threat to the public. No injuries were reported.
Another train derails near Springfield, Ohio
Just a month after the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, another Norfolk Southern train derailed in west central Ohio. On Saturday, March 3rd, nearby residents of Springfield and the surrounding communities were told to temporarily shelter in place due to the crash. Representatives of Norfolk Southern, a Clark County hazmat team, and the Environmental Protection Agency each separately examined the derailment site and announced that there was no evidence of the release of toxic chemicals. The shelter-in-place order was lifted early the next morning after authorities ensured that there was no risk to public health.
The following Monday, Norfolk Southern announced a new six-point safety plan with the intent to implement “meaningful safety improvements” to their hot bearing detector network, the failure of which was responsible for the February 3rd derailment in East Palestine. The railroad company also announced that they will pledge several million dollars to Pennsylvania as recompense for the response and recovery efforts on the part of Pennsylvania fire departments. The fire departments will receive $5 million to help replace or repair equipment that was damaged or contaminated at the derailment site. Norfolk Southern will also give $1 million to Lawrence and Beaver counties to assist residents and business owners who were negatively impacted by the February 3rd derailment.
On March 7th, a Norfolk Southern employee lost his life as a result of a train colliding with a dump truck in Cleveland. The victim was identified as Louis Shuster of Broadview Heights, Ohio. No further details have been released by Norfolk Southern or the Cleveland police.
Norfolk Southern apologizes to Congress; Ohio sues
On March 9th, senators of the bipartisan Environment and Public Works Committee conducted a hearing to further investigate the environmental and public health threats from the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Questions largely covered environmental safety regarding the spill, what Norfolk Southern will do to assist the impacted residents, and whether the railroad company will implement appropriate paid sick leave for its workers.
“I am terribly sorry for the impact this derailment has had on the folks of that community,” said Alan Shaw, CEO of Norfolk Southern. He went on to express his and the company’s commitment to do whatever it takes to help the area recover from the derailment. While Shaw noted that the company is prepared to assist East Palestine up to “10 years from now” if necessary, he did not make any concrete promises of funds or resources. He also did not make any definitive statements about paid sick leave for the company’s workers.
The same week, the National Transportation Safety Board announced that it will open up a broad investigation into Norfolk Southern’s organization and safety practices. In their press release, they stated that the in-depth investigation will thoroughly examine the organization’s safety culture. The Federal Railroad Administration will also be widening its investigation into Norfolk Southern as it launches a 60-day safety review of the railroad company.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced on March 14th that Ohio has filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern to ensure that it pays for the environmental damage and subsequent cleanup caused by the train derailment in East Palestine. The federal lawsuit would also force the company to account for costs associated with soil and groundwater monitoring in the upcoming years, economic losses experienced by East Palestine and the surrounding areas, and the costs of first responders and state agencies dealing with the derailment.
Residents of East Palestine and the surrounding communities struggling to handle the stress and uncertainty surrounding the Norfolk Southern train derailment can talk to a trained specialist at no charge by calling the Ohio Careline at 1-800-720-9616.
The Dangers of Toxic Compounds
In addition to vinyl chloride, other cars on the train that crashed in East Palestine contained combustible liquids, butyl acrylate (a compound used in commercial coatings and sealants), ethylhexyl acrylate, and residues of benzene, a highly flammable petrochemical. Simply touching vinyl chloride can cause skin numbness, blisters, and redness, and breathing large amounts is potentially deadly. At lower exposure levels, affected individuals can experience symptoms such as:
Heavy exposure to vinyl chloride is linked to increased risk of cancer of the liver, brain, lungs, and blood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also cautions that vinyl chloride in surface waters or soil evaporates rapidly and breaks down into other potentially dangerous chemicals like hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde.
How an Ohio attorney can help with train accident injury claims
According to the 2021 Rail Statistics Report published by the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, there were 53 train accidents that year alone, resulting in 14 injuries and 4 fatalities. In some cases, these accidents result from a railway operator’s failure to adhere to state or federal safety laws. This can result in a court choosing to charge the railway with absolute liability for any subsequent injuries or death.
If you or a loved one has been affected by the Ohio Norfolk Southern train accident, the lawyers at Pond Lehocky Giordano will thoroughly examine your case and assist you in seeking compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, property damage, lost wages, and other damages.
Contact us today for a free case evaluation
Because train derailments (and incidents like the Norfolk Southern derailment in particular) are legally complex cases to pursue, it’s important to have an experienced personal injury legal team involved. Our train accident lawyers handle train derailment injury and death cases in all 50 states. There is no charge to speak with our attorneys about your situation and legal rights. For more information, call 1-800-568-7500 or fill out the form on this page.