Originally created 05/25/05

Railroad reveals formula in Graniteville settlement



COLUMBIA - Railroad owner Norfolk Southern would pay a family of five that was evacuated for nearly two weeks during one of the nation's deadliest chemical spills at least $15,000 for inconvenience and minor injuries under a preliminary class-action settlement filed late Monday in federal court.

The settlement, which is subject to a judge's approval, also outlines how Graniteville residents and businesses should be reimbursed for property damages, lost wages and profits after a Norfolk Southern train crashed into another parked train on a side track Jan. 6.

The wreck ruptured a railcar carrying chlorine and released a toxic cloud over the town, killing nine people and injuring 250. About 5,400 people, nearly all living within one mile of the crash, were evacuated.

The settlement offers $2,000 for being evacuated along with $200 per day, per person for those who didn't seek medical attention within 72 hours after the crash.

Thus, a family of five that was evacuated for the maximum 13 days would receive $15,000, in addition to property damages and other losses.

One exception is a few neighborhoods evacuated outside the one-mile zone. Those residents would receive a maximum of $1,600. The settlement also covers people who lost wages or had other damages because they worked inside the evacuation zone.

A significant part of the settlement could be paid in property damages either directly related to the chlorine - such as damaged wiring - or related to the evacuation, such as food spoiling in a refrigerator.

How much money the railroad will pay will not be known until the claims are in.

If there aren't any objections to the settlement, residents could begin receiving money by August and September.

U.S. District Judge Margaret Seymour will hold a hearing on the preliminary settlement Thursday.

The settlement does not include wrongful death payments to the families of the nine killed or money for medical expenses to those severely injured from inhaling chlorine. The railroad thinks less than 200 people sought medical treatment within 72 hours.

Norfolk Southern attorney Daniel White said the agreement continues the railroad's commitment to take care of people after the crash. In the days after the wreck, the company reimbursed residents for expenses such as hotel rooms, rental cars, food and clothing.

The settlement avoids lengthy trials and attorney fees for some residents. The plaintiffs' attorneys, subject to approval, will be paid 25 percent of the total settlement. But that amount will not be deducted from money paid to residents.