East Palestine Residents Can Still Join Proposed Settlement

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – Those who believe they should be entitled to part of the $600 million proposed settlement related to the Feb. 3, 2023, Norfolk Southern train derailment in the village will still have an opportunity to be part of the class-action group.

Nicholas Amato, a Wellsville attorney listed as one of the community liaison counsels on the class-action lawsuit in the Northern District Court of Ohio, said Wednesday there is still time for residents with claims to join the class-action group.

The proposed settlement still needs to be approved by Judge Benita Y. Pearson.

Court documents state the settlement would resolve all the class-action claims within a 20-mile radius of the derailment and all personal injury claims within a 10-mile radius for residents who choose to participate.

Amato said Wednesday he personally has entered at least 1,000 people into the class-action lawsuit group, and there are other attorneys working to do so as well. Forms are available through the attorneys involved in the action. Forms also have been available at Rollerena Auto Sales, state Route 14 in Unity, just north of East Palestine.

Those who register as part of the civil lawsuit will be notified after the settlement is finalized. Then it will be determined how much they will be eligible to receive from the $600 million settlement, at which point they can choose to accept or decline the amount.

Those who decline can still bring forth a civil lawsuit, but Amato points out they would have to hire other legal counsel.

Amato said distance to the derailment and health symptoms will be among the considerations. More details will be announced as the process continues.

Counsel for Norfolk Southern and the four law firms chosen to argue and present evidence in the class-action case announced Tuesday that a settlement had been reached.

Court documents state the motion for preliminary approval is expected from the plaintiffs no later than April 19.

According to a press release Tuesday from Norfolk Southern, the settlement also includes businesses in the area that suffered losses.

Some residents criticized the proposed settlement, saying they don’t believe the $600 million will be enough to cover expenses, medical bills and possible future health concerns.

The law firms representing residents and businesses in the class-action lawsuit, which merged 31 lawsuits together, are Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh and Jardine, P.C. in Englewood, Colo.; Grant & Eisenhofer P.A., in Wilmington, Del.; Simmons Hanley Conroy, New York, N.Y.; and Morgan & Morgan of Orlando, Fla.

The lawyers who negotiated a $600 million settlement want residents to talk with them before deciding the historic deal isn’t enough.

They said Wednesday that the settlement for everyone within 20 miles (32 kilometers) of the East Palestine disaster is bigger than any derailment settlement ever made public, including the worst in recent memory when a crude oil train rolled out of control downhill, killing 47 people in Lac Megantic, Canada, in 2013.

“This is not like your AT&T settlement where everybody gets two bucks. No, this is very individualized with respect to how close people were to the impact area, what their current situation is, whether they own, whether they rent — all sorts of criteria,” said Jayne Conroy, one of the lead attorneys with Simmons Hanly Conroy.

That formula dictating how much each person receives is still being written, they said. And a federal judge would have to grant the deal preliminary approval before those awards could be calculated.

Mike Morgan, one of the other lead attorneys in the case with Morgan & Morgan, said this settlement wasn’t really designed to compensate for crippling health problems that might emerge later. But he said none of the experts consulted during the litigation expect this derailment to lead to a huge cancer clusters even with all the chemicals that spilled and caught fire — or even the vinyl chloride intentionally released and burned three days later to prevent five tank cars from exploding.

Morgan said it’s important to remember that this lawsuit wasn’t about the massive cleanup costs that the railroad has already spent more than $1.1 billion on. There are separate lawsuits filed by the state and federal governments to address that.

Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.