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Norfolk Southern will pay $600 million to settle East Palestine derailment lawsuit

A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, after the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in February, 2023.
Gene J. Puskar
A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, after the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in February, 2023.

Norfolk Southern has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit stemming from the fiery train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the railroad announced Tuesday.

The company has agreed to pay $600 million dollars as part of the settlement, but it does not admit any wrongdoing or liability for the derailment in February of 2023.

38 train cars derailed on the outskirts of East Palestine, near the Pennsylvania state line, including 11 carrying hazardous chemicals. The derailed cars triggered a massive fire, belching toxic smoke into the air far above the town. Roughly 2,000 of the town's 4,900 residents were forced to evacuate.

The agreement would settle all class-action claims within a 20-mile radius from the derailment, Norfolk Southern said in a statement announcing the deal, as well as personal injury claims within a 10-mile radius for residents who chose to participate.

"Individuals and businesses will be able to use compensation from the settlement in any manner they see fit to address potential adverse impacts from the derailment," the company said in a statement. "This could include healthcare needs and medical monitoring, property restoration and diminution, and compensation for any net business loss."

Norfolk Southern has already spent more than $800 million on a massive environmental cleanup in East Palestine.

One year after the derailment, the local community was divided about the best way forward, with some residents still harboring concerns about air and water contamination.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the deal should provide "substantial compensation" to residents and businesses.

"We believe this is a fair, reasonable and adequate result for the community on a number of levels, not the least of which is the speed of the resolution, and the overall amount of the awards residents can expect, which will be significant for those most impacted by the derailment," said a statement from a group of lawyers for the plaintiffs at the firms Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, Grant & Eisenhofer, Simmons Hanly Conroy, and Morgan & Morgan.

The agreement still requires approval from a federal judge for the Northern District of Ohio.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the claims process would consider a number of factors, including location relative to the derailment, the length of displacement and exposure to contaminants. They say payments to plaintiffs could begin by the end of the year.

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Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.