Ohio businessman files $500M lawsuit against Norfolk Southern over train derailment

FILE- A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of...
FILE- A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains, Feb. 6, 2023.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 11:38 AM EST
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EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WXIX) - Companies near the train derailment site in East Palestine filed a $500 million federal lawsuit this week against Norfolk Southern Railway and Norfolk Southern Corporation.

The Feb. 3 derailment “devastated” all four of Edwin Wang’s companies named in the lawsuit: CeramFab, Inc., CeramSource, Inc., Yonggong, LLC, and WYG Refractories, which make ceramic fiber insulation products for steel mills.

FOX19 NOW requested a comment Wednesday from Norfolk Southern. We will update this story once we hear back.

A 50-car train was carrying hazardous materials to Pennsylvania when it wrecked on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, causing a massive fire and toxic chemical spill that forced evacuations.

Authorities monitoring the scene were worried about the risk of explosions. A controlled release of a toxic and flammable gas called vinyl chloride was conducted on Feb. 6.

All of Wang’s companies are within the immediate evacuation zone around the controlled burn after the derailment, so all work was immediately halted at each facility, according to the lawsuit.

Heat from the fire forced toxic constituents resulting from the controlled burn and through the walls of his companies, the litigation alleges.

Once the evacuation order was lifted and authorities had given the “all clear” for employees in the area to return to work, several employees at Wang’s businesses reported being ill and unable to work after spending only short periods of time inside them, the suit contends.

Even employees who were able to work longer experienced symptoms like burning eyes, breathing problems, rashes, foul odors, tastes, and other effects directly caused by the derailment and controlled burn, the lawsuit states.

The wholesale part of Wang’s businesses, CeramSource, was able to reopen last month in a new location just over the nearby Pennsylvania border, according to the lawsuit.

But contamination concerns and expensive equipment Wang can’t afford to replace are keeping his other companies closed. Before the derailment spilled chemicals on his property, Wang’s companies employed close to 50 people and had plans to expand, suit states.

“Unable to fully staff any shifts and concerned for the wellbeing of the employees, as well as the potential liabilities for exposing workers to a contaminated building, Mr. Wang made the difficult decision to temporarily cease operations at all three businesses because of concerns over the toxic constituents released during the derailment and controlled burn,” the suit reads.

These concerns were further magnified – and the decision to keep the workers from the facilities supported – by the ever-increasing scope of the remediation and clean-up efforts being conducted by Norfolk Southern’s contractors next to and on the CeramFab premises, the suit contends.

“Over the next few months, Defendants provided no clear indication on how long their clean-up efforts would take or how contaminated they knew Plaintiffs’ business properties actually were. This lack of transparent communication from Norfolk Southern was coupled with multiple public third-party reports of increased community dioxin levels and persistent contamination proximate to Plaintiff properties.”

Read the new lawsuit here:

This is the latest development in a long list of lawsuits against the railroad over the derailment.

Another lawsuit is a consolidation of 31 separate suits filed against Norfolk Southern, alleging the derailment was preventable and caused a major health and environmental crisis.

Norfolk Southern also faces another consolidated lawsuit from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency.

The class action lawsuit plaintiffs say the controlled burn after the derailment was the cheaper, less safe way to contain the damage, releasing the chemicals, instead of safely and properly cleaning up the spill.

Residents had to evacuate and those within a 3-mile radius had to shelter in place when toxic chemicals like vinyl chloride spilled and now residents are worried about their health risks from exposure, environmental impact and economic impacts of evacuating, court records show.

Spilled chemicals killed 3,500 fish in streams, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. One of the lawsuits claims thousands of residents from Ohio to Pennsylvania could have been exposed to toxic chemicals.

The railroad’s lawyers have asked the judge to dismiss the mass class action lawsuit.

Norfolk Southern has worked to remove contaminants from the ground and streams and monitor air quality. They also say they spent millions on evacuation costs and to create a community fund, court records show.

The railroad’s attorneys also wrote in court records earlier this year that they are not responsible for cause of the derailment, the first rail car didn’t belong to their company and the plaintiffs’ claims are not legally strong enough to merit the suit proceeding.

“Nor did Norfolk Southern construct the wheel bearing that allegedly ‘overheated’ and ‘caused the train to derail,” their lawyers wrote in a memo to the court supporting their motion to dismiss.

“Norfolk Southern, as a common carrier, was required by federal law to transport vinyl chloride, a hazardous chemical with numerous industrial uses.”

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