Some still seek compensation from 2005 train wreck

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.

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