Attorney: Derailment Settlement Still in ‘Best Interest’ of Community

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – Now that the National Transportation Safety Board has had its say about what caused the Norfolk Southern train derailment in the village, attorneys who created the $600 million settlement say they hope residents know all of that was taken into account.

Adam Gomez, a principal at Grant & Eisenhofer PA, one of the firms involved in the negotiations, said that when attorneys did their own discovery and collected depositions, all the information that came out Tuesday during an NTSB meeting, plus additional information that is not publicly known and cannot be released due to protections in the agreement of the case, was considered.

“Really, what the NTSB is doing [ during Tuesday’s meeting] is confirming a lot of the information that came out during those hearings,” Gomez said. “So while we certainly understand that it opens old wounds and makes everything fresh again and causes people to relive the trauma of what occurred Feb. 3-6, and certainly into the present, I think it is important to keep in mind that this information has been out there for a long time.”

Gomez said nothing he heard from the NTSB was a surprise, and some of the facts reported actually would have made the case a little weaker.

“Everything has pointed to the $600 million outcome being in the best interest of this community,” Gomez said.

Adam Gomez

Throughout the testimony and into the evening Tuesday, many residents expressed fears and anger about how much the derailment has upset their lives.

“They are certainly right to be angry,” Gomez said. “This was, as we have said all along, a totally avoidable accident and something that certainly has to be addressed in the future to ensure that this kind of incident never happens again.”

He also addressed the concerns that the $600 million settlement is being spread out among residents in a 20-mile radius of East Palestine, which would leave less for those most affected. Even some residents outside the 20-mile radius who once had an address within the zone have reported receiving a mailing for the settlement.

But Gomez said addresses were gathered through the public domain, which was done intentionally to make certain that as many people as possible who have a claim are notified.

The money is not being evenly distributed among everyone. A couple living near the derailment site could see $70,000, Gomez said, while someone further away may receive a few hundred dollars.

Businesses within the 20-mile radius, regardless of whether they filed a case, are presumptively included in the case, he said. They will need to file paperwork for tax information and to show business losses.

Although thousands of claims have already been filed and the deadline to file is Aug. 22, Gomez said attorneys are concerned about misinformation – especially on social media – that has been trying to convince people not to take the settlement or that it is not enough money. He said those who claim they have “secret testing” or other information so far have not been able to scientifically prove their results.

“If they are getting information from other sources, like social media or hearsay, they need to question whether that is accurate and reliable information and make sure they get to the bottom of it before they factor it into any decision they make,” Gomez said.

Those who choose not to join the settlement have until July 1 to opt out.

Following Tuesday’s NTSB meeting, one woman said $70,000 is not enough to relocate from East Palestine unless her family is going to live in a car. Another claimed the attorneys are pushing the lawsuit only because it is in the settlement that they will do so.

Others spoke of health symptoms they have suffered and fears that the chemicals from the derailment are already causing cancer, or that their children or grandchildren will one day have cancer from growing up or visiting the village.

Gomez said proving causation of cancer or any chronic disease is incredibly difficult, especially in federal court where the cases would be heard. He encourages anyone who has questions to reach out to the settlement administrator for answers before making decisions based on fear.

“It’s understandable because it’s an incredibly devastating and traumatic event. And one of the most powerful emotions that my clients confront, and I think the community confronts here, is uncertainty. That leads to a host of different outcomes, not the least of which is speculation,” Gomez said.

This photo taken with a drone on Feb. 4, 2023, shows portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3. (AP Photo | Gene J. Puskar, File)

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