YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A federal judge has ordered attorneys representing clients who have filed class action lawsuits over the train derailment in East Palestine to begin the work to consolidate the cases.

In an order issued Wednesday in the U.S. Northern District Court of Ohio, U.S. Judge Benita Y. Pearson ordered that attorneys in the 18 cases file March 15 their views regarding consolidating all the cases into one amended master complaint.

The cases have been filed by people seeking damages in the wake of the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine that was carrying chemicals.

A few days after the train derailed, the chemicals, which were still in the rail cars, were burned off rather than removed to prevent an explosion. Pictures of the resulting plume of smoke which caused an inversion of clouds have been broadcast across the country.

Those who have filed suit have almost universally said in their complaints that the derailment has released toxic chemicals in the air and water that will have an adverse effect on their health, residences and business.

Authorities ordered an evacuation of an area about a mile wide around the area of the derailment for several days, which also affected residents across the border in Beaver County, Pa.

The plaintiffs in the cases are seeking damages to compensate them for lost income, health expenses and stress.

A class action lawsuit is when a person or a group files a lawsuit against another entity or entities accusing them of the same course of conduct.

If a judge is satisfied that all the requirements have been met, then they can designate a case as a class action. People who may have been affected by the alleged conduct in the class action are usually notified of the amended complaint and have an opportunity to participate or opt out.

Damages to be paid are either negotiated or determined at trial. Those who are part of the class action lawsuit typically have the same amount of damages.