It appears as though a settlement has been reached in 24 lawsuits related to January’s Elk River spill. The settlement only applies to Freedom Industries, not West Virginia American Water or any other entities. Lawsuits that name them as defendants will continue to move forward.
The settlement consists of $2.9 million, which would be held in a trust by Freedom Industries pending the bankruptcy court’s approval of Freedom Industry’s liquidation plan. The amount could be used to cover testing of the water, health studies, and other projects meant to benefit individuals affected by the chemical spill. The spill, up to 10,000 gallons of MCHM into the Elk River, affected the drinking water of 300,000 people in nine counties, mainly in the Charleston area. Even after the water was declared safe to drink, many residents continue to avoid the water, and many who began using it after officials said it was safe have complained of ill effects. Trust in the water supply and officials who guard it has been found to be as low as 10 percent.
One of the noteworthy aspects of the settlement is that it would not include individual payouts to those affected by the tainted water, but rather would be used to benefit the entire class of 300,000 people. Class members have the option of “opting out” of the settlement if it is not to their liking. However, one attorney noted that when he spoke to his clients, “no one wanted a $7.60 check” but rather answers about what happened to cause the chemical spill, and what else could result. Yet in return, Freedom Industries got the other side to agree that the cost of its remaining environmental remediation should not exceed $850,000.
Notably, the proposed settlement comes at a time when investigators have learned a few more things about the cause of the chemical spill. Investigators for the federal Chemical Safety Board found holes at the bottom of the chemical tank considered to be responsible. They claimed that the cause of the holes was likely corrosion from water pooling inside the tank. The chemical substances then traveled through soil, gravel, and water systems beneath the Freedom Industries site before entering the Elk River. More concerning, the leaky tank responsible was not the only Freedom Industries tank with holes. While the tanks had been inspected in 2013, the previous inspection did not require the company to drain the tanks, which led to the holes being missed.
Overall, the proposed settlement affects only a handful of the lawsuits pending over the chemical spill. Not only will the lawsuits against West Virginia American Water go forward, but also any lawsuits that name Eastman, the manufacturer of the MCHM chemical, as a defendant.
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.