Victims to get $10.5 million

File/Staff
The January 2005 Graniteville train wreck and chlorine leak killed nine and hurt hundreds. Norfolk Southern has reached its second class action settlement.

AIKEN - A federal judge gave final approval Monday to a class action settlement that will pay at least $10.5 million to people seriously injured in the Graniteville train wreck two years ago.

 

Nearly a fifth of the people who have filed claims under the lawsuit already have been paid, said Carl Solomon, a Columbia attorney who represents victims.

With Judge Margaret Seymour's approval, this means Norfolk Southern is close to concluding legal action brought on when two of its trains collided Jan. 6, 2005, spilling 60 tons of chlorine gas into the air and killing nine people. Hundreds more were injured and thousands were forced to evacuate their homes for days.

This is the second class action settlement stemming from the wreck. The first, finalized in 2005, was for people with minor injuries and property damage.

This settlement is for those who had more serious injuries and were hospitalized, and includes emergency responders.

According to court documents, 479 people have filed claims under the settlement, and 104 of them already have been paid $4.1 million. An additional 35 have been offered payouts totalling nearly $6.5 million. The rest of the claims are being processed.

Hundreds more opted out of the settlement - which means they still can file individual lawsuits - but Mr. Solomon said many weren't eligible for the class action anyway.

There are five subclasses in the lawsuit, depending on where the person lived and the extent of the injuries. Those who were treated within 72 hours but not hospitalized make up the majority of the claims, but not the payouts. As of June 14, those who were hospitalized had been offered $7.2 million through the settlement.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Robin Chapman said the company still expects to pay out $41 million in compensation and damages. That's after the company's insurance foots part of the bill, he said, but he did not have the total amount.

Danny White, a Norfolk Southern attorney based in Greenville, said there are 25 individual lawsuits still pending against the company.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.