COLUMBIA, S.C. – The first lawsuits have been filed against Norfolk Southern in the wake of a Jan. 6 train wreck and chlorine gas (search) spill that killed nine people and injured about 250 others.
About 1,900 residents of the textile town of Graniteville (search) remained displaced Friday, but some have forged ahead with lawsuits claiming negligence and nuisance.
"This tragedy was avoidable and the community should have been spared the profound grief of nine fatalities and massive personal losses," attorney Lew Garrison said. "The thousands of citizens bearing this grief and loss should have their fair and prompt day in court."
At least two lawsuits are seeking class-action status, which needs a judge's approval. One lawsuit filed Thursday claims Norfolk Southern (search) failed to properly train its employees, conduct a timely evacuation and inspect a switch on the track.
About 5,400 residents were evacuated after the crash, in which a train slammed into a parked train, puncturing a tanker of chlorine gas. A preliminary investigation determined the crew that parked a two-car train on a spur rail failed to switch the tracks back to the main rail.
Garrison said he did not know how much in damages would be sought.
"There's a lot more to this disaster, both in terms of economic and environmental impact, that are just not known at this point," he said.
Railroad spokeswoman Susan Terpay said Norfolk Southern does not talk about ongoing litigation; she said she didn't know if the company had received the lawsuits. In a statement Friday, chief executive David Goode said the accident site had been mostly cleared, "and remediation and restoration are under way."
"On behalf of all of the Norfolk Southern family, I want to restate our commitment to the citizens of Graniteville and Aiken County to do everything in our power to help them recover," he said.
Attorney Michael Leizerman said many residents started contacting lawyers after Norfolk Southern required signatures on expense checks that waived future claims. The railroad has since removed the language from the checks.
"At first they were happy to be alive, but then they started really questioning things," Leizerman said.