Five months after the disastrous Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the rail giant is looking to dismiss a mass class action lawsuit it faces.
Norfolk Southern is seeking to shut down the case, which is in fact a consolidation of over 30 separate lawsuits filed against the railroad company.
“The first car to derail did not belong to Norfolk Southern,” the company’s legal team claimed in its motion to dismiss the slate of lawsuits, filed Friday evening. “Nor did Norfolk Southern construct the wheel bearing that allegedly ‘overheated’ and ‘caused the train to derail.’”
“And Norfolk Southern,” the memo continued, “as a common carrier, was required by federal law to transport vinyl chloride, a hazardous chemical with numerous industrial uses.”
In the motion, Norfolk Southern’s lawyers labored to argue that the plaintiffs’ array of claims fell short. “Norfolk Southern is committed to making things right,” the memo read, listing off efforts the company says it has pursued to assist the community: “millions of dollars” in financial aid, committing to create a health care fund, a property fund for homeowners who sell their homes, and a water-testing fund.
“Plaintiffs’ claims are based on conduct that Norfolk Southern allegedly undertook in this heavily regulated environment,” the company’s legal team continued, arguing that the claims against the company “would unreasonably burden railroad transportation” in general. In other words, how could Norfolk Southern be responsible when regulation of the industry already exists?
The finger-pointing legal argument is risible when you recall that Norfolk Southern has funneled some $100 million into politics since 1990, buying deregulation (yes, the same regulatory atmosphere the company now points to as giving it immunity). The company was a big proponent of rolling back an Obama-era rule that could have required trains, like the one that derailed in Ohio, to use updated electronic brakes instead of Civil War–era ones, for example.
East Palestine residents to this day report a range of troubling symptoms, including rashes, bloody stools, and vomiting bile. Some also say that Norfolk Southern is denying relocation assistance claims or reimbursements for expenses like chemical exposure tests—leaving people to pay out of pocket for it all. After the derailment, the company also reportedly left dozens of maintenance workers out to dry, directing them to clean up the crash site without giving them personal protective equipment.
The motion to dismiss the lawsuit comes after the Supreme Court followed the lead of conservative members of Congress in weakening the Clean Water Act, opening up even further avenues for corporations to try evading legal responsibility for their own disastrous actions.
In the meantime, Norfolk Southern also faces a since-consolidated lawsuit brought by both the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, and the state of Ohio.
“No community should have to go through what East Palestine residents have faced,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in March upon the agency’s lawsuit filing. “With today’s action, we are once more delivering on our commitment to ensure Norfolk Southern cleans up the mess they made and pays for the damage they have inflicted as we work to ensure this community can feel safe at home again.”