The site of the freight train derailment that sent 100,000 gallons of toxic chemicals into the air, soil, and water in early February, East Palestine, Ohio is swamped with lawyers, according to The New York Times.
Already, attorneys have filed more than a dozen lawsuits in federal court and are busy signing up clients, gathering evidence, and warning residents that the health and environmental fall-out from the accident may not be fully known for some time, even years.
Also, the Times reports, Norfolk Southern may not cooperate in providing answers to residents’ questions, based on their actions so far. The company sent a letter to plaintiffs’ attorneys alerting them that they had just two days to inspect the rail cars before they would be removed or destroyed.
Republican Governor Mike DeWine and other state and federal officials have downplayed any deleterious effects from the derailment, despite the laundry list of hazardous chemicals that were on board.
Residents have complained of coughs, headaches, rashes, and other symptoms of chemical exposure. “They see they’re not getting the truth from the politicians and the company. That leaves the lawyers,” Rene Rocha, a lawyer with the personal injury firm Morgan & Morgan, said during a hearing in late February in Beaver County, Pa., just across the border from East Palestine.
The scope of the derailment and ensuing fire has made the disaster one of the most high-profile in recent years, according to the Times, attracting activists such as Erin Brockovich to hold meetings with residents.
“You’re going to be told it’s safe, you’re going to be told not to worry: Well, that’s just rubbish,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything in 30 years like this.”
She was accompanied by Mikal Watts, a prominent Texas lawyer who warned about both health and legal issues plaintiffs could potentially face.
The legal landscape is just developing, the Times reported. Cases could be consolidated as a class action or multi-district litigation or be bundled before one or several federal judges in Ohio.
Meantime, Norfolk Southern has been paying $1,000 in “inconvenience compensation” to people who had to evacuate.