East Palestine, Ohio Train Derailment Lawsuit

On February 3, Norfolk Southern trains in East Palestine, Ohio derailed due to mechanical issues, spilling at least 10 freight cars of dangerous and flammable chemicals. Thousands may be at risk of exposure.

Simmons Hanly Conroy is working to represent municipalities, businesses and individuals impacted by the Norfolk Southern derailment incident. Our firm has the national reach and resources to take on large, serious cases against powerful companies.

We’ve helped thousands of clients across the country harmed by corporate wrongdoing and recovered billions of dollars in verdicts and settlements on their behalf.

Contact us today to learn more about your legal rights and options during a free consultation.

Derailed train

About the Train Derailment in East Palestine, OH

In total, 149 Norfolk Southern Railway train cars were traveling from Illinois to Pennsylvania on February 3, when around 50 of these cars derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. At least 10 of the derailed cars were transporting highly hazardous chemicals.

The East Palestine community had to be temporarily evacuated following the derailment to enable railroad crews to burn the flammable chemicals and allegedly prevent a larger explosion from taking place.

After only five days, the evacuation notice was lifted and residents were allowed back into the area. The full extent of the spill and the damages it could continue to cause is still being determined at this time, but the effects are already being felt miles away.

Over 3,500 fish were found dead nearly 8 miles downstream by February 9, less than a week after the derailment. It’s possible the contamination will continue to spread and potentially affect drinking water supplies.

The Cause of the Derailment

At this time, it’s believed the derailment may have occurred due to a mechanical problem with an axle or wheel bearing on one of the freight cars.

Camera footage in Salem, Ohio shows the fire may have already started below the car approximately 20 miles before East Palestine, causing many to wonder why something wasn’t done earlier given the explosive nature of the cargo.

What Chemicals Were Spilled in Ohio?

So far, the following industrial chemicals are known to have been spilled during the Ohio train derailment:

  • Vinyl chloride
  • Butyl acrylate
  • Ethylhexyl acrylate
  • Ethylene glycol monobutyl ether
  • Isobutylene

After the spill, these chemicals were burned to avoid a potentially uncontrolled blast. However, the decision to burn these toxic and flammable chemicals may have only made matters worse.

When burned, vinyl chloride becomes hydrogen chloride (also known as hydrochloric acid, a known irritant) and phosgene (a poisonous gas used as a choking agent during World War I).

Anyone exposed may experience a number of different health problems, ranging from breathing difficulties, eye/skin irritation and headaches to multiple types of cancer, neurological effects or reproductive harm.

Air, Earth & Water Contamination Risks

As a result of being burned, these dangerous chemicals then traveled in the air and seeped into the soil, which could contaminate both rain and groundwater in addition to well water supplies in East Palestine and neighboring areas.

As of February 14, bodies of water near East Palestine were still contaminated with chemicals from the derailed trains, according to the EPA. Sadly, this contamination has reached the Ohio River.

More than 5 million people depend on the Ohio River for drinking water, and over 30 million people inhabit the Ohio River Basin.

The state EPA is working with a company Norfolk Southern hired to test the air and water in the area, but affected residents are encouraged to seek independent testing as well, particularly anyone with private wells.

As more is found out, it’s important to be careful when encouraged to sign any paperwork that may be provided by these officials as it may limit your legal options later on.

“There is a lot of fear and there is a lot of concern [by affected families]. What about their kids? What about the water? What about their livelihoods, their homes,” Partner Jayne Conroy explained on CNN. “And there is always that question of how are we going to hold Norfolk Southern accountable.”

Filing a Class Action Lawsuit against Norfolk Southern

A class action lawsuit has been filed against Norfolk Southern as a way to hold the company accountable for its negligence in East Palestine and to pursue compensation for those who have been impacted by exposure to the toxic chemicals that were spilled.

In general, taking legal action for damages arising from the Ohio train derailment may be an option for:

  • Residents and families
  • Businesses
  • Communities
  • First responders
  • Railroad workers
  • Property owners
  • Local governments

In cases like this, your legal options are defined by the kinds of damages you suffered. In addition to causing physical symptoms, these chemicals may also cause property damage when they come in contact with buildings, vehicles and other equipment.

“We have now learned that all of that fire equipment as well as the firefighters’ radios and the police departments’ radios needs to be replaced because of the contaminants….And [what] can be salvaged needs to be cleaned at an enormous expense,” explained Jayne.

“So, the problem — the more we learn, the more it just keeps growing and growing,” she said.

Legal scale and gavel

Let Us Fight for Your Family

When companies are careless with toxic chemicals, it’s the individuals and communities that suffer most. Too often, however, taking legal action can feel out of reach, especially in cases involving such powerful corporate entities — but our firm is here to help.

For over 20 years, Simmons Hanly Conroy has been dedicated to providing our clients with a powerful voice in the legal system and helping them take a stand against the companies that wronged them.

On February 21, attorneys with the firm will host a town hall about the train derailment and your legal rights in Columbiana, OH, and on February 24, we’ll have another town hall in Monaca, Pennsylvania.

Let us fight for justice on your behalf. Contact our team today to get started.

As Featured on CNN

Video Summary: Jayne Conroy from national law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy discusses the toxic train derailment with CNN. View Transcript.

Alisyn Camerota:

With me in the studio now is CNN chief climate correspondent, Bill Weir, and Jayne Conroy. She's an attorney who is now representing hundreds of residents in that community in a class action lawsuit against Norfolk Southern Railroad. Great to have you both. Jayne, let me start with you.

Jayne Conroy:

Sure.

Alisyn Camerota:

So you're representing hundreds of people now in this community. Do they share similar stories? What do they want out of this class action lawsuit?

Jayne Conroy:

I don't even know that they're thinking so much about the class action lawsuit right now, but I think they're thinking about the things that Nate said. What about their kids? What about the water? What's happening to their lives? What about their livelihoods, their homes that they own?

Alisyn Camerota:

Where are they living?

Jayne Conroy:

Everywhere. Hotels, Airbnbs, family members that are putting them up places. And some people we know are back in their homes because they have livestock or crops that they have to deal with. So it's a mixed bag. But there's a lot of fear and there's a lot of concern. And there's always that question of, how are we going to hold Norfolk Southern accountable? But that's not helping right now. That's not helping Nate today.

Alisyn Camerota:

Is there anything that can help him today?

Jayne Conroy:

Maybe. I think there could be some efforts that could be taken to try to help assist with housing and those types of things. But the railroad didn't even show up at the meeting, so it's a little hard to have those conversations.

Alisyn Camerota:

What do you think about that? So there was a town hall meeting tonight. The residents were going to be able to voice their concerns. And then Norfolk Southern said that their employees were getting too many threats.

Jayne Conroy:

I don't know anything about the threats. But I don't think it's slowing down trains running on tracks near East Palestine. So Norfolk Southern's worried about some things, but not its business.

Alisyn Camerota:

Bill, let me play for you a little bit more sound from this town hall tonight and the frustration of the residents there.

Speaker 3:

Everybody satisfied with my answer?

Crowd:

No.

Speaker 5:

Why are people getting sick if there's nothing in the air or in the water? Why [inaudible 00:02:18].

Speaker 6:

Stop taking the railroad's money.

Speaker 7:

If I call the number on your card, sir, with all due respect, you still won't be able to answer the question I just asked for all of us.

Speaker 8:

I have concerns with dead fish, the smell of the water. I'm not a scientist but I do have common sense.

Speaker 9:

Where's Norfolk Southern?

Alisyn Camerota0:

Why can't we get answers from them?

Alisyn Camerota:

Well, I mean, you hear it there. Why are people getting sick if there's nothing in the air or water?

Bill Weir:

If you think those folks are mad now, wait until they have the time to actually look into the history of Norfolk Southern and really the railroad industry in the last decade in this country. That train that derailed was almost two miles long as a result of an era right now of downsizing staff, laying off 30% of workers and making the trains 30% longer. And they're operated with brakes that were first invented in the Civil War, 1867, air brakes that break from the front to the back so it can take two minutes before the back car knows to slow down. And so it becomes this slinky from hell that slams into the cars that have already stopped.

Of course, we have a better mousetrap in the 21st century. It's called electronic controlled pneumatic brakes. They basically stop every car at once, immediately, much more efficient. And in 2014, the Obama administration wanted to make them mandatory on cars that had explosives in it, after a bunch of derailments and one just like this in New Jersey that let off this gas. And the industry and Norfolk Southern fought it, even though they had put some on their trains and were screaming about the benefits. They said, if we put these on their trains, those trains should be exempt from all other inspections because they're so safe. But they thought it was too expensive to invest in that.

Alisyn Camerota:

Do you know if these folks have gotten a response from Norfolk Southern yet? Have they replied?

Bill Weir:

I haven't heard. I haven't heard anything.

Alisyn Camerota:

Anything Jayne?

Jayne Conroy:

No. I haven't heard anything.

Alisyn Camerota:

Norfolk Southern, I read, has set up I think, a $1 million fund for the community. How will that go over, Jayne? Will that be enough to help the folks like Nate that we just heard from?

Jayne Conroy:

No, it's probably not going to pay for all of the properties and the livelihoods and medical monitoring for all of these individuals. What I do hope is that they're not expecting that even if they do give that small assistant to a resident, that they don't make them sign away all their rights to future recovery. That's always a worry that we have. So cash like that could really help, but not if it has strings attached.

Alisyn Camerota:

And you were telling me also that just the amount of response that had to show up in terms of the fire department, the fire trucks, that alone could eat up so much of that $1 million.

Jayne Conroy:

I was stunned to learn. I was talking to city officials over the last few days and 90 fire departments were needed to come on scene. Not a big surprise, with the size of this fire, to work on the fire for days and days. We've now learned that all of that fire equipment as well as the firefighters' radios and the police department's radios, they need to be replaced because of the contaminants that were on the scene and the fire trucks and the other type of equipment, if they can be salvaged, need to be cleaned at enormous expense. So you take a town like East Palestine or any of the other locations with fire departments, first of all, their equipment isn't even available if something were to catch on fire tomorrow.

Alisyn Camerota:

Oh my gosh.

Jayne Conroy:

So the problem, the more we learn, the more it just keeps growing and growing.

Alisyn Camerota:

And Bill, this train of hazardous materials that the governor said he didn't know contained hazardous materials, how many of these trains are chugging through all of our neighborhoods at any given moment?

Bill Weir:

Lots of them all the time, everywhere. You can reroute a truck full of hazardous material around a population center, but trains are limited on their track choices. And now the economics of it, it's all about efficiency. They fought the lobbying group's designation, that this particular kind of train carrying this is extra hazardous, extra explosive. They willed it down the number of train cars you have to have carrying this in order to classify because that would slow things down. And this is money. They're making money. This company made 13 billion, just shy of $13 billion in profits last year. And what's interesting, in 2004, Norfolk Southern train crash in South Carolina spilled chlorine, killed nine people, but they paid a $4 million fine because they had violated the Clean Water Act and killed a bunch of fish. I don't know, there might have been a class action saw where they had to pay out to the victims of those families.

But if somebody's doing a train wreck cost benefit analysis between paying to put the brakes on the train, there's about a thousand derailments a year. I looked at the stats. 150 of those, 15% are due to bad tracks. They're either buckled, they can't take the weight or they've shifted, and the industry is laying off all of these people that would be inspecting those tracks for the profit. And to be fair, the railroad union has gotten screwed from both parties. Joe Biden and the Democrats kept them from striking to get paid healthcare recently to stop a national rail shortage. They were afraid of inflation.

Alisyn Camerota:

It's not going away.

Bill Weir:

This is not going away. And I don't know what the changes are going to be. It feels like, you can replace the word trains for guns in some ways and say the same special interests that are unifying to stop changes and common sense safety is existing here.

Alisyn Camerota:

Yeah. Well this certainly isn't going away in East Palestine. Jane, Bill, thank you very much for all the information. We will follow it every single day.

Jayne Conroy:

Please do. That's what's necessary.

As Featured on MSNBC

Video Summary: Jayne Conroy is on the ground in East Palestine, Ohio to discuss the toxic train derailment with MSNBC. View Transcript.

Willie Geist:

The National Transportation Safety Board says the Ohio train, derailment and toxic chemical spill could have been prevented. According to a preliminary report, the crew on board the Norfolk Southern train received an alert about an overheated wheel bearing on that wheel moments before dozens of cars left the tracks in East Palestine. At that point, the wheel bearing was 235 degrees above the ambient temperature. Investigators say the train had passed two other sensors and no alarms went off.

Meanwhile, residents of East Palestine say they still are experiencing headaches and nausea and worry about the long-term effects. State officials say the derailment may have killed now more than 43,000 fish, amphibians and other aquatic animals in nearby streams. The Department of Agriculture insists it has not seen anything of concern in the area of livestock, despite some reports from residents.

Joining us now from East Palestine, Ohio is attorney, Jayne Conroy, part of the legal team spearheading class action litigation against Norfolk Southern Railroad, also conducting independent, comprehensive air, water, surface, and soil testing. Jayne, thanks for being with us this morning. We've been saying now, ever since we've heard this public confidence from elected officials from the EPA that the water is fine, that the air is fine, that everyone should return home, that we'd be skeptical based on other disasters we've seen in the past. So tell us about this class action suit that you have filed on behalf of some of the residents there in Ohio.

Jayne Conroy:

Sure. Good morning. Thank you. We filed immediately because we know that first of all, it was unclear what chemicals were even on that train, and we were concerned that the correct information was not getting to the residents of East Palestine. And that was first and foremost. You can see behind me all the work going on to try to figure out what chemicals are in the water and in the air and in the soil. But secondarily, we know that there's a reason why this accident happened. And so part of the reason for our lawsuit on behalf of the residents is to figure out why this happened so it doesn't happen again.

Willie Geist:

And what is the specific negligence you are alleging on behalf of Norfolk Southern?

Jayne Conroy:

Well, it's pretty basic. It's putting profits over safety. Were there enough hot box detectors that you were talking about on those tracks to determine whether that train was going to derail? Is there enough of a crew? Are the trains too long to stop in time? Are they too dangerous going through towns like this when you don't have the right type of detectors on board the train? So all sorts of questions like that. A lawsuit like this sheds light on that information because look, even today, the trains are coming through new tracks, right over the contaminated soil through East Palestine. It's the same hot boxes that are on those tracks. So we need to shed light on what's happening.

Speaker 3:

So Jayne, let's stick with this topic for a bit. I mean, the idea of infrastructure in the United States, apparently they're way behind on improving rail beds all over the country, not just in Ohio, I would imagine, but 149 railroad cars. I have never heard of that number of railroad cars being pulled through a village, a town, a city, anywhere. Is that going to be part of the negligence lawsuit?

Jayne Conroy:

Absolutely. We're going to look at that because when you add a lot of cars to a train like that, it takes a really long time to stop them. Not only that, with only two crew members and a trainee that was on this train, it takes forever to even walk the line to inspect those cars to see if there's a problem. And it's happening everywhere in the United States. There's nothing unusual about... Norfolk Southern does it. They're everywhere with trains that are that long. We have trains that are that long coming through East Palestine today.

Willie Geist:

All right, we will be keeping a close eye on this case, Attorney Jayne Conroy. Thank you. As of now, the company, Norfolk Southern, has not commented on this litigation.

Norfolk Southern Lawsuit FAQs

On February 3, 2023, Norfolk Southern trains passing through East Palestine, Ohio derailed, spilling hazardous chemicals like vinyl chloride and more.

The Ohio train derailment released vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether and isobutylene into the air, water and soil.

Yes. A Norfolk Southern class action lawsuit has been filed by local residents and business owners for damages arising from the East Palestine train derailment.

If you or your loved ones were negatively affected by the derailment, contact Simmons Hanly Conroy today. We may be able to help you take legal action and hold Norfolk Southern accountable.

At Simmons Hanly Conroy, our lawyers work on what’s known as a contingency-fee basis. This means there are no upfront or out-of-pocket costs to take legal action.

Our team only gets paid if your case successfully results in compensation.

Simmons Support Team
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Editorial Team

The Simmons Hanly Conroy Editorial Team consists of journalists, writers and editors who strive to deliver accurate and useful information to families needing legal help. Our team works alongside the firm's attorneys and partners, as well as with medical professionals and other specialists, to keep all information relevant and helpful.

View Sources
  1. ABC News. "Waterways along Ohio River still contaminated following train derailment carrying hazardous materials: Officials." Retrieved from: https://abcnews.go.com/US/waterways-ohio-river-contaminated-train-derailment-carrying-hazardous/story?id=97195028. Accessed on February 17, 2023.
  2. ABC News. “Why the toxins from the Ohio train derailment could have posed deadly threats for residents nearby.” Retrieved from: https://abcnews.go.com/Health/toxins-ohio-train-derailment-posed-deadly-threats-residents/story?id=9697839. Accessed on February 17, 2023.
  3. Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission. "The Ohio River at a Glance." Retrieved from: https://www.orsanco.org/river-facts/. Accessed on February 17, 2023.
  4. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "General Notice of Potential Liability. Retrieved from: https://response.epa.gov/sites/15933/files/Norfolk%20Southern%20East%20Palestine%20Train%20Derailment%20General%20Notice%20Letter%202.10.2023.pdf. Accessed on February 17, 2023.
  5. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "Hydrochloric Acid (Hydrogen Chloride)." Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-09/documents/hydrochloric-acid.pdf. Accessed on February 17, 2023.