Countless lawsuits against Freedom Industries, due to the massive chemical spill into the Elk River, have been moved to federal court in light of Freedom Industries’ decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The chemical spill took place in January, when a tank containing 4-methylcyclohexane methanol leaked 10,000 gallons into the Elk River near Charleston, tainting the drinking water of 300,000 residents. Those residents were warned to avoid using the water for any purpose for at least a week. Even so, more than 100 residents were forced to go to the hospital, and many complained that even after the water had been cleaned up and deemed usable, they were still having bad reactions.
Residents filed lawsuits, including several class-action suits, which prompted Freedom Industries to file for bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy not only brings lawsuits to a halt, due to an injunction known as the automatic stay, but also means that the bankruptcy proceedings take place in federal court. Federal district court judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. then decided that all 62 civil suits should be transferred to federal court immediately. His reasoning was that each of the injured individuals was entitled to a jury trial, and bankruptcy court does not typically have jury trials. Although lawsuits are sometimes allowed to remain in bankruptcy court for pretrial proceedings, before being transferred to federal district court, Judge Copenhaver believed that it would lead to more efficient case administration to have the case taken out of bankruptcy court. That way, duplication of proceedings could be avoided.
In addition to Freedom Industries, the West Virginia American Water Company and Eastman Chemicals (producer of the chemical MCHM involved) are named defendants. Because of the bankruptcy, many of those who filed lawsuits have responded by removing Freedom Industries as a defendant so that the lawsuits can move forward without further interruption. Otherwise, while Freedom Industries and the West Virginia American Water Company would prefer that proceedings remain in federal court, it is possible that the 62 cases could be returned to state court. Of the 62, half are awaiting class-action certification. The cases have common complaints of bodily injury, emotional distress, nuisance, inconvenience, loss of income, loss of business revenue, loss of enjoyment, and medical monitoring requests.
In related news, a Putnam County judge recently gave the city of Hurricane permission to move forward with its investigation of contaminated water dumping at the DSI Landfill. The water was from the source contaminated with MCHM from the Freedom Industries spill. The city is concerned that the water could ultimately leak into the city’s water supply, harming its residents. It is just the latest sign that, although the original spill happened in early January, its aftereffects are far from over.
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 bankruptcy attorney, contact us today.