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Norfolk Southern seeks to dismiss lawsuit over Ohio derailment

Residents claim Norfolk Southern should be held liable for property damage and health issues, but the railroad says it's protected under federal law.
Posted at 2:40 PM, Jun 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-07 14:40:01-04

Norfolk Southern is asking a judge to toss out a class-action lawsuit filed by residents of East Palestine, Ohio.

The lawsuit claims the railroad's negligence was responsible for the toxic train derailment in February that spewed toxic chemicals into the air and ground of surrounding areas. 

Residents say Norfolk Southern should be held liable for damage to property and health issues. But the railroad calls the claims threadbare and says the company is protected under federal law.

Now, Norfolk Southern is trying to repair its image by touting new safety measures. CEO Alan Shaw says the goal is to offer hands-on training to first responders in communities where Norfolk Southern operates.

Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw in East Palestine, Ohio, in February 2023

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"For us, it's about prevention. It's about mitigation and it's about response," he told Scripps News. "Last year we had the lowest number of derailments at Norfolk Southern in the last two decades, and we can get better."

But so far this year, Shaw has been in the hot seat. He's been grilled by local, state and federal officials after more than 1 million gallons of hazardous chemicals were released into the air, soil and water in eastern Ohio and neighboring communities in western Pennsylvania.

While the governors of both states have been sharply critical of the rail company, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp praised Norfolk Southern Tuesday for its dedication to first responder safety training.

Shaw said his company has committed nearly $36 million to help East Palestine recover.

"They're up there working on the environmental remediation," he said. "They're working on the family and business assistance, and they're working on investments to help the community thrive."

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said long-term impacts on residents' health, property value and water monitoring are top of mind. To that end, Shaw said Norfolk Southern is working with the attorneys general of Ohio and Pennsylvania to set up long-term medical compensation funds to address citizens' concerns.

Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio

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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan defended his department's response Tuesday, saying they are working tirelessly to repair the community.

"Over 60,000 tons of waste has been removed from that site," Regan said. "Over 20 million gallons of liquid waste has been removed from that site, because it's our job and our expectation that we will restore this community back to some sense of normalcy as soon as possible."

While the EPA estimates most of the cleanup will be done by the end of the summer, Shaw says Norfolk Southern's work in East Palestine will likely take much longer.

"We're gonna be there five years from now. We're gonna be there 10 years from now," he said.

However, when he was asked about why his company is seeking to have the class-action lawsuit dismissed, Shaw said he couldn't comment on pending litigation.