Norfolk Southern sued by widow over trainee conductor’s decapitation | US news

An Alabama woman whose husband was decapitated when the Norfolk Southern train he was training on passed a stationary freight car with a protruding metal beam is suing for wrongful death. The lawsuit comes at a difficult time for the rail giant, which must contend with litigation over a recent toxic derailment in Ohio.

Walter James Griffin III, 43, was training to become a conductor when he was killed in Bessemer, Alabama, on 13 December, reported.

Griffin and the conductor training him were in a Norfolk Southern cab when they went by another company train stopped in the Birmingham-area community.

A metal beam sticking out of the stationary car crashed through the cab, killing Griffin.

Local officials called it a freak accident. But Griffin’s widow, Sherita Fields, filed suit in January, accusing Norfolk Southern of failing to properly inspect its trains and demanding unspecified damages.

Speaking to WBRC, an Alabama news station, an attorney for Fields said he did not think the term “freak accident” was “a proper characterization” of Griffin’s death.

David Brown said he and his client contended Griffin was killed by negligence from Norfolk Southern and the US Pipe fabrication facility the train with the protruding beam had left.

“This is something that is preventable,” Brown said. “This is not just [a] random type of a situation. This is something where there was clear fault by the individuals involved.”

Of the metal beam, Brown said: “It shouldn’t protrude in the first place. The law requires entities to do inspections of their loads before they actually leave the property. We see a very straightforward situation where the folks at Norfolk Southern and the folks at US Pipe … should have done their jobs and inspected it.”

In a statement to the Daily Mail, Fields said she sued because she did not “want this to happen to anyone else”.

In a statement to WBRC, Norfolk Southern called Griffin’s death “tragic” but said “it would be inappropriate to comment further” while the National Transportation Safety Board investigated.

“Our thoughts remain with his family,” the company said.

US Pipe officials could not be reached for comment. WBRC reported that attorneys for plaintiff and defendants were scheduled to appear at a hearing on Thursday.

Norfolk Southern is still trying to manage the fallout from one of its trains derailing in East Palestine, Ohio, on 3 February, while carrying toxic chemicals.

On Tuesday, Ohio officials sued Norfolk Southern in federal court, in an attempt to hold the company financially responsible for the East Palestine spill.

The lawsuit alleges that the East Palestine derailment was just one of “a long string” of derailments and hazardous materials incidents involving Norfolk Southern. The suit also argues that the spill recklessly endangered the residents of East Palestine and Ohio natural resources.

Last week, the Norfolk Southern chief executive, Alan Shaw, told a US Senate committee his company would provide $21m in financial assistance to East Palestine residents and affected emergency workers.

He said his firm intended to fully clean the East Palestine site, in an effort to “make it right”. Shaw also said he was “deeply sorry” for how the derailment affected surrounding communities.

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