Some still seek compensation from 2005 train wreck

Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 7:07 PM
Last updated 8:55 PM
  • Follow Metro

COLUMBIA — More than seven years after a Norfolk Southern Co. train collision brought death and devastation to Graniteville, some residents are still fighting for what they believe is owed them.

On Jan. 6, 2005, a Norfolk Southern train carrying 250 tons of chlorine crashed into two locomotives and two rail cars in Graniteville. The chlorine tank ruptured, sending a plume of toxic gas into the community. Nine people were killed, 4,500 fled their homes, and 250 were sent to the hospital.

This week, the South Carolina Court of Appeals heard arguments brought by James and Dorothy Martin and Stella Woodward. The residents want the court to give their complaints against Norfolk Southern Corp. and Norfolk Southern Railway Co. another chance.

The residents had sued the rail company in 2007, seeking unspecified damages, but lost the case. They are now appealing.

James Martin says in the suit that he should be compensated, despite his home’s location outside one of the mandatory evacuation zones established after the accident.

Woodward said she had pre-existing conditions, including breathing problems, which were agitated by the chlorine. She said her Aiken home was nearly four miles away from the accident site. Even though she was never ordered to evacuate, she did so anyway because of her medical condition, according to court files. The rail company argues that her home was one mile farther from the site of the derailment than Aiken Regional Medical Centers, where a triage center was set up for victims.

Court documents show Woodward went to Whitaker Wellness Institute in Newport Beach, Calif., for relief and sought care from a variety of other facilities. She also listed property damage to her yard and trees, and time, money and effort spent cleaning bedding, clothes and kitchen supplies.

After the train wreck, the Martins received a recorded 911 call that informed them of the crisis and directed them to close their home’s ventilation system and stay inside. The couple said they did not leave their home for four days after the train accident, according to court documents.

Martin argues that he suffered flulike symptoms, throat irritation, coughing, and later developed nasal congestion, aggravated bronchitis and allergies, as well as other problems.

The Martins’ home, according to the suit, is on the north side of Interstate 20, across the roadway from Graniteville proper, and three miles from the site of the wreck. Northfolk Southern has argued that Google maps show the couple’s home is farther away.

Martin said that he also lost $3,000 in wages in one month because he couldn’t work. As an insurance representative, his duties included selling insurance and collecting payments in Graniteville. He said the train crash also caused the paint to peel from his 1995 Chevrolet pickup.

Attorneys for the rail company argue that the residents failed to link their ailments to the train accident. They also say the residents are trying to raise points now that they never made in earlier proceedings.

In 2010 a U.S. District Court ordered Norfolk Southern to make several environmental improvements to the Graniteville area and pay a $4 million penalty. Of the amount, $3,967,500 was to go into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and $32,500 was for the Hazardous Substance Superfund.

The company settled a class-action lawsuit with 5,400 residents and settled with victims harmed by the chlorine release.

Comments (2) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
deportem 11/15/12 - 09:00 pm
Chlorine is heavier than air

Aiken Regional Medical Center is on a hill, so the railroad's reasoning is flawed. Chlorine is heavier than air and flows downhill. Lookup other chlorine accidents and see how far away some of those victims were.

soapy_725 11/16/12 - 11:17 am
Avondale and NS conspired to

leave the citizens of Graniteville high and dry. Paying into a government slush fund is not compensating a town and its citizens for a disaster. A disaster that had blatant negligence and obvious loss.

But big companies with fat lawyers know how to "create deny ability". Who was charged with gross negligence? Who failed to install the "de-railers"? Who failed to switch the "frog"? Who failed to take standard measures to prevent a train from entering private property on a spur.

The lawsuit should have first begun against the human perpetrators of this crime. Then by association NS. Did NS every name or punish the NS employees? This creates a position of "deny ability".

For Avondale's part, they saw an opportunity to get out of Dodge. Write off some losses. Free themselves from decades of "paternal obligations" and save mega bucks. It was just business. Nothing personal. "Hey, these lent heads don't know nothing anyway and we can do whatever we want with their lives". Adios. Thanks for the profits and your loyalty. Avondale should have been representing the citizens of Graniteville. Instead they sided with NS.

OpenCurtain 11/16/12 - 11:59 am
Have personally seen the results of the wreck years later

2010 -2011 - while having Physical Therapy Downtown I met a victim of the wreck. Her husband was really messed up and she fared little better.

The issue at hand is about being miles away

Remember we are dealing with 250 Tons of a gas. 1/4 Ton of Chlorine released in the Augusta Civic Center would come close to being enough to kill every body even in the nose bleed seating.

It indicates up 5.4 miles is potentially deathly for 1 ton of the gas.

"A large leak, developing in a full one ton cylinder (Graniteville was 250 Tons) stored outside of the chlorination building would be considered a worst case scenario. All of the contents of the cylinder would be released as a toxic gas within the span of approximately ten minutes. There are no passive mitigation measures in this case. Under worst case weather conditions, the chlorine would travel 5.4 miles before dispersing enough to no longer pose a hazard to the public."

Back to Top
Search Augusta jobs