The lawsuits continue to be filed in the case where 10,000 gallons of chemicals spilled into the Elk River, tainting the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginia residents.
The latest lawsuit is a class action like the others, with Summer and Robert Johnson of Charleston listed as the named plaintiffs, and Freedom Industries (which has filed for bankruptcy), West Virginia American Water, American Water Works, and Eastman Chemical named as defendants. Since Freedom Industries is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the suit may be voided or suspended, as filing for bankruptcy triggers a restraining order known as the automatic stay, which prevents would-be creditors from pursuing their collection efforts, including filing a lawsuit or continuing an existing lawsuit. If so, it may be possible to get permission from the court to pursue the lawsuit. A lawsuit may also be retroactively validated, though usually only in a case where the creditor did not know the debtor had filed for bankruptcy.
Until Freedom Industries files a motion with the court, claiming violation of the automatic stay, the lawsuit remains active. In this case, the Johnsons accuse Freedom Industries of failing to maintain proper storage facilities for the crude MCHC and for failing to make information readily available after the leak. Regarding West Virginia American Water, the Johnsons claimed that it failed to understand the possible threats to the water supply, that it failed to maintain adequate water reserves, that it failed to keep proper filtration reserves, and that it failed to take proper actions after it learned of the chemical leak. Among the defendants was Eastman, producer of the crude MCHM, which was accused of not properly disposing of the MCHM, a waste byproduct.
Regarding Eastman, the complaint stated that it should have known when it sold the MCHM that Freedom Industries and the Etowah River Terminal were “cut-rate businesses” who only considered short-term profits over long-term benefits, and who operated “on the margins of legality,” with little concern for public safety. As such, Eastman should have known that the MCHM would be stored improperly.
The Johnsons claimed that a reasonably prudent company, knowing what Eastman knew or should have known, would have disposed of the MCHM as a waste and avoided the risk of an environmental disaster like the Elk River leak. They further charged that Eastman’s lack of reasonable care was a proximate cause of the chemical leak, which affected the Johnsons and all other similarly situated customers of American Water. They were not allowed to use their tap water for up to eight days, and even for months afterward, it remained tainted, with an unpleasant odor.
The Johnsons seek class status, as well as damages for their deprivation of tap water, loss of use of their property, lost earnings, annoyance and inconvenience, and other expenses.
The Wolfe Law Firm has been providing legal services for nearly 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm provides services in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, and mediation. If you are looking for an experienced West Virginia personal injury attorney, contact us today.