In the aftermath of the Graniteville train derailment, thousands of people filed suit or joined in class-action lawsuits against Norfolk Southern.
With lightning speed in the legal world, the company agreed to settle most of the lawsuits filed on behalf of the survivors of those who died of chlorine poisoning, those who were injured, those who were traumatized, those whose property was damaged and nearly 5,400 people who had to be evacuated on Jan. 6, 2005.
According to federal court records and annual reports from Norfolk Southern, the largest settlement was to the owners of Avondale Mills, which closed in 2006.
The total paid was not revealed, but even after its insurance companies paid on the settlements, $13 million was not covered. The company later lost a dispute with one insurance company that rejected coverage of $43 million, according to an annual report to stockholders.
According to an earlier report in The Augusta Chronicle, the class-action lawsuit settlement said those who were injured would receive from $10,000 to several hundred thousands of dollars.
Norfolk Southern was sued by the U.S. government through the Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the company of polluting Horse Creek, Flat Rock Pond and Bridge Creek Pond, according to court records.
In 2008, the company entered a consent decree and paid a $4 million civil penalty. It also agreed to special training for emergency cleanup of hazardous materials, and it agreed to restock the affected waters with 1,000 fish – catfish, bluegill, warmouth sunfish, largemouth bass and black crappie. Norfolk Southern was also responsible for an estimated $100,000 job of restoring vegetation in the Horse Creek watershed.
Avondale Mills employees who lost their jobs after the plant closed were unsuccessful in their lawsuit.
According to court records, U.S. District Court Judge Margaret B. Seymour ruled that there was no direct or special relationship between the railroad company and mill employees in a way that Norfolk Southern could be found negligent and responsible for the lost jobs.