The state of Ohio on Tuesday launched a lawsuit against rail operator Norfolk Southern Co. for failing to prevent the Feb. 3 derailment that spewed toxic chemicals around the neighborhood of East Palestine, Ohio.
The 58-count civil lawsuit filed in federal court seeks to hold Norfolk Southern financially responsible for the wreck that caused the release of over 1 million gallons of hazardous chemicals, “recklessly endangering” both the health of area residents and Ohio’s natural resources. The lawsuit cites the Atlanta-based company’s escalating accident rate, saying that has risen 80% in the past 10 years, leading to at least 20 Norfolk Southern derailments since 2015 that have involved chemical discharges.
“The derailment was entirely avoidable and the direct result of Norfolk Southern’s practice of putting its own profits above the health, safety, and welfare of the communities in which Norfolk Southern operates,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a release.
The lawsuit opens the latest front in an array of authorities that are looking to hold the railroad accountable for the derailment, including an investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation and a bipartisan bill in Congress called the “Rail Safety Act of 2023.” In response, Norfolk Southern has released a succession of its own proposed safety initiatives, joining with rail industry group the Association of American Railroads (AAR) in an effort to draft their own operating practices instead before the government imposes new regulations.
In response to the Ohio lawsuit, Norfolk Southern said in a statement that “We are making progress every day cleaning the site safely and thoroughly, providing financial assistance to residents and businesses that have been affected, and investing to help East Palestine and the communities around it thrive.”
The company said it had been tracking community concerns about long-term impacts from the derailment, including future health conditions, drinking water quality, and the loss of home values. To address those concerns, Norfolk Southern pledged to create “a long-term medical compensation fund,” said it would provide protection for home sellers if their property loses value due to the impact of the derailment, and promised to work with stakeholders on water conditions.
“We look forward to working toward a final resolution with Attorney General Yost and others as we coordinate with his office, community leaders, and other stakeholders to finalize the details of these programs,” Norfolk Southern said in a statement.
In his own release, Yost acknowledged those steps, but said that one goal of the lawsuit was to “make sure that Norfolk Southern keeps its word.”