$10.5 million settlement coming to Graniteville victims

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June 26, 2007

GRANITEVILLE, S.C.---It's been a little over two years since a deadly chlorine spill killed nine people in Graniteville and injured hundreds of others after a Norfolk Southern train wreck.

But now, thousands of dollars are going to the victims and their families who were involved. The class-action settlement covers nearly 480 people.

We talked with some of those affected and how things have changed two years later.

"The first few months was depressing. They dumped 40 tons of lime down there, and this neighborhood stunk for several months. Just had a bad smell to it," said resident Wayne Williams.

"Every time one rattles by--which you can hear it real good--you still think about it," said Gloria Swearingen.

The memory probably won't go ever away for people like Swearingen and Williams. 480 people suffered serious injuries from that deadly derailment.

The accident happened across the street from Swearingen's home. She had already settled, so she won't be getting part of the $10.5 million settlement.

"I was glad when ours was over, to start with," Swearingen said. "As far as money-wise, we got what we thought was fair."

"That $10.5 million, I think that should have been per person, but that's just my opinion," Williams said.

Williams is one of victims in that class action lawsuit and is expecting a settlement check any day now.

"Now that the judge has approved it, I think it will probably come through relatively soon," he said.

Williams says that some of the damage that has been done can never be fixed. His roommate's name is not on the memorial wall, but he believes he still died as a result of the spill.

"He finally said, 'Okay, go back if you want to,' and two months later he was dead," Williams said. "Norfolk Southern's financial report that year, the year of the train wreck, they made more money than they ever did--something like $40 million profit they had. So this will not hurt them."

Money has been offered to 180 of those claimants, and 104 of them have already received about $4.1 million.

Norfolk Southern also has settled with the families of the nine people killed as a result of the crash, but family members and victims alike say money won't bring back their loved ones or erase the devastating memories.

"I'm glad that they are going to get some piece of mind," Swearingen said.

"It's not a pleasant thing to think about for over two years," said Williams.

"Really, you don't know how this is going to affect you over the years...the thoughts and all of the memories are always there," Swearingen said.

There are still several dozen independent lawsuits pending against Norfolk Southern at various stages of litigation, but those suits are expected to be settled up as well within the next few months.

Settlements range from $10,000 up to several hundred thousand dollars, depending on a number of factors including the severity of their injuries, how close they lived to the derailment or why they were exposed to the gas.

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