Graniteville Residents' Negligence Appeal Fails

A panel of three judges from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Nov. 5 rejected the appeal from three people who lived 2-5 miles away from the site of the Jan. 6, 2005, chlorine spill.

In an unpublished Nov. 5 decision, three judges of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have rejected an appeal from three people who lived 2-5 miles away from the site of the Jan. 6, 2005, chlorine spill in Graniteville, S.C., and subsequently filed a negligence lawsuit against Norfolk Southern Railway Co. and two individuals, Mike Ford and James Thornton. The incident killed nine people and occurred when a Norfolk Southern train left a main line and struck another train parked on a spur.

The three crewmen on the parked train allegedly failed to reset the switch properly, causing the incident. The railroad company later fired the crew, including these two individual defendants, brakeman Ford and conductor Thornton, saying they had failed to perform their duties properly.

The three plaintiffs in the negligence case lived 2-5 miles away from the location of the spill, according to the decision. Mandatory evacuation was ordered for residents living within 1 mile, and a shelter-in-place order was given for those living 1-2 miles away. No orders were issued that affected the plaintiffs, whose suit claimed they suffered injuries from having to evacuate or seal themselves inside their homes. The three judges -- Allyson K. Duncan, Barbara Milano Keenan, and James A. Wynn Jr. -- ruled that the plaintiffs' negligence claim fails because they cannot establish any legal duty owed to them by Norfolk Southern.

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