Lawsuit alleges 'poor' railcar placement on derailed East Palestine train
As the number of class action lawsuits filed against Norfolk Southern railroad over the East Palestine chemical derailment and fire, so do the number of plaintiffs and scathing allegations being made against the railroad.
The tenth and latest negligence complaint filed in U.S. District Court alleges that Norfolk Southern failed to take appropriate care when loading the train that went off the tracks in the village the night of February 3.
The 53-page suit filed on Monday by Cleveland law firm Peiffer, Wolf, Carr, Kane, Conway & Wise, claims that the railroad back loaded the train with 40% of its weight at the rear.
According to the complaint, lighter cars were loaded between the heavy rear tankers and the front engine.
“This poor railcar placement created accordion or wave-like stress on the train and its axles,” the suit alleges.
“Approximately 40 minutes before it derailed, an overheated wheel bearing sparked and the train caught fire,” the suit goes on to claim.
In addition to seven residents claiming health risks and damaged property values because of the derailment and subsequent decision to burn off the toxic chemicals, another party to the suit is the owner of the East Palestine Dairy Queen on South Market Street.
DalQuan Holdings claims that toxic gas, smoke and dust from the train wreck left a film inside and outside the business, forcing the DQ to close for more than a week due to a mandatory evacuation and cleanup efforts.
The owner claims that since reopening on February 9, some employees have refused to return to work out of concern over air quality at the site. In addition, the owner claims the DQ has seen a “dramatic reduction in customers and foot traffic.”
The lawsuit claims that the railroad failed to immediately report the wreck as required by federal law, waiting nearly two hours after the derailment.
Additionally, the suit alleges that as federal, state, and local emergency response teams arrived, Norfolk Southern isolated itself from those teams conducting its own operational and tactical planning, without input from the responding agencies.
“Confusion abounded as authorities were forced to react to Norfolk Southern’s unilateral decisions,” according to the class action which also alleges that Norfolk Southern failed to provide first responders with key information about the chemicals onboard the wrecked train. “This failure left first responders unable to determine how to safely extinguish the fire while it grew out of control,” says the suit.
Like some of the other lawsuits, this latest action wants a federal judge to allow people who live or worked within 30 miles of the derailment site to sue Norfolk Southern.
The courts have not yet ruled on that and Norfolk Southern has yet to file a response in court. 21 News reached out to the railroad for a response to the lawsuit, and received a reply that they are unable to comment on pending litigation.
The railroad did announce on Monday that since the derailment, Norfolk Southern has served more than 2,200 families and paid more than $3.4 million in direct payments to East Palestine citizens.
The National Transportation Safety Board is expected to issue preliminary findings on the derailment next week.