AMITE - Checks from the train derailment class-action lawsuit settlement could come in time for Christmas.
The checks will range from $1,150 to as much as $6,850, depending on the claimants' location at the time of the Oct. 12, 2002, derailment and their approved expenses for lodging, food and clothing, a local attorney said.
There had been word that the checks would come by Oct. 1, but attorney Joseph Simpson said they were delayed when a Baton Rouge attorney filed an appeal on behalf about 20 people seeking more money.
The latest word is that the checks may be mailed to the 5,600 claimants on Dec. 1, he said Monday.
The information is not official, he said, but it comes via a 14-member committee appointed by the federal judge on the case.
Amite attorneys Simpson, Richard McShan and John Bel Edwards and Robbie Carter of Greensburg are among the 14. Simpson said he has attended every committee meeting in New Orleans.
"At first, they said they would set up tables and distribute the checks in alphabetical groups," he said, "but the last I heard is that they will be mailed."
Provisions will have to be made to notify any claimants who have not informed the attorneys or the court of changes in their addresses, he said.
Hundreds of Amite residents fled their homes that quiet Saturday afternoon four years ago when 22 freight cars left the tracks and one spilled hydrochloric acid just a few blocks south of Amite's downtown area.
Some 50 attorneys, including famed trial attorney Johnny Cochran, represented the claimants in the resulting lawsuits filed against Canadian National Railroad.
The claimants were divided into three zones, Simpson said. They are as follows:
€ Zone A - People within half a mile of the derailment. They are to receive $2,300 plus amounts they paid for certain expenses.
€ Zone B - Those anywhere inside the zone from the Tangipahoa River to Interstate 55 from Velma to somewhere north of the Franklinton Highway. They are to get $1,150.
€ Zone C - Claimants who purported to be shopping or visiting friends and relatives in Amite that day. They are to get $150 each. For example, some 650 of the claimants are from St. Helena Parish.
Fourteen people who were selected by the committee and were deposed as typical claimants are to get an additional $2,500 each, Simpson said.
The largest amount, he believes, will go to a woman in Zone A whose expenses will bring her check up to $6,850.
The total amount of the settlement is $8.25 million, Simpson said, plus $300,000 for administrative fees.
"The railroad never regarded this as a major catastrophe," he said. "Only one car emitted the chemical. As to whether it covered the territory is suspect. The federal judge ruled the only effect of this chemical was to the nose and the eyes. It was a good settlement. The people who worked on this did well. And it came through relatively fast. A lot of money will be spent in Hammond and Amite before Christmas."
Although Simpson lived in Zone A at the time, he said he did not personally make a claim. "I went across the railroad tracks every morning and every afternoon to get newspapers. They had deputies out, but nobody ever stopped me," he said. "I didn't make a claim because I didn't smell anything, and I will not make a fraudulent claim."