Norfolk Southern's Legal Troubles Start to Mount

Norfolk Southern Railway is facing an array of lawsuits following the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, last month, including a 58-count civil suit filed by the state.

The rail company has been under scrutiny since one of its trails derailed in eastern Ohio on February 3, releasing a slew of hazardous chemicals into the community. Norfolk Southern has had three other significant accidents since—including two other derailments and a crash near Cleveland, Ohio, in which a train conductor died—launching a special investigation into the company’s safety culture by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

On Tuesday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit in federal court to hold Norfolk Southern “financially responsible” for its train that derailed in East Palestine. The lawsuit claims that “the derailment was entirely avoidable and the direct result of Norfolk Southern’s practice of putting its own profits above the health, safety and welfare of the communities in which Norfolk Southern operates.”

Alan Shaw, president and CEO of Norfolk Southern Corporation, testifies before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on March 9, 2023, in Washington, D.C. This week, three lawsuits were filed against the transportation company, including a 56-count grievance by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost over the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, last month. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

“Ohio shouldn’t have to bear the tremendous financial burden of Norfolk Southern’s glaring negligence,” Yost said in a press release regarding the suit. “The fallout from this highly preventable incident may continue for years to come, and there’s still so much we don’t know about the long-term effects on our air, water and soil.”

Yost’s suit is one of several filed this week against the freight company, whose network operates between every major seaport in the eastern portion of the United States. On Monday, CeramFab Inc., alongside two of its sister companies, filed a negligence lawsuit claiming that none of its employees have been able to return to work due to the chemical contamination surrounding the site. According to WFMJ in Lisbon, Ohio, CeramFab has a plant adjacent to the site of the East Palestine derailment, and its sister businesses, CeramSource and WYGRefractories, share an address less than a mile west of the crash site.


A woman from Alabama is also suing Norfolk Southern over a separate train incident in December that resulted in the death of her husband, 43-year-old Walter James Griffin III, who was undergoing training to become a conductor.

According to The Birmingham News, Griffin was aboard a Norfolk Southern train when, while passing by a stationary freight car, a metal beam sticking out of the car crashed through the window of Griffin’s cab, striking him. Griffin’s wife, Sherita Fields, is also suing U.S. Pipe, which reportedly had unloaded and serviced the stationary train at one of its facilities.

Norfolk Southern has repeatedly promised to “make it right” for the people of East Palestine who were impacted by its train derailment, including in a release on Tuesday following Ohio’s lawsuit, in which the company said it was looking “forward to working toward a final resolution with Attorney General Yost.”

Following the crash in Cleveland in which one of its conductors died, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw promised that the company would “rebuild our safety culture from the ground up.”

Lawmakers have also shown interest in probing other Class I rail companies in light of the East Palestine disaster. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote a letter to NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy on Wednesday, urging that the board expand its investigation of Norfolk Southern to consider the other major railroads operating in the U.S., including BNSF Railway, CSX, Union Pacific, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and Kansas City Southern.

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