UPDATE: Judge approves settlement in WV chemical spill that polluted tap water for 300,000 people

Location of the Freedom Industries chemical storage tank leak that occurred in January, 2014, in Charleston, W.Va.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - UPDATE 2/1/2018

A class-action settlement in a water crisis that left nearly 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley without water has been finalized.

A federal judge approved the settlement on Thursday morning in Charleston.

The drinking water was contaminated in January 2014 when a chemical used to clean coal spilled from a storage tank at the now-defunct Freedom Industries, polluting the Elk River upstream from the system's water intake.

The $151 million settlement is between West Virginia American Water and Eastman Chemical.

Impacted residential households will receive $550 plus $180 per additional resident.

Shutdown Business Claims - $1875 plus 4 percent of annual revenue up to $41,875

Lodging Business Claims - $5,000 to $64,000 based on annual revenue.

Other Businesses - $1,875

Nonprofit Organizations - $1,875

Nearly 64,000 claims have been filed so far, about 80 percent have been residential claims.

If you don't have a bank or your bank charges a fee for cashing a check, Fifth Third Bank will cash it for you with no fee.

The deadline for claims submissions is Feb. 21, 2018. You can file online at www.wvwaterclaims.com or call 1-855-829-8121.

Checks are expected to be mailed out in May.


UPDATE 10/14/2017

Legal experts are working to teach those affected by the 2014 water crisis in the Kanawha Valley how to file their legal claims in the $151 million settlement.
Lawyers held an educational forum for maxing out your claim at the Civic Center Saturday night.

They say it's important to file a claim. Whatever is not paid out will go back to West Virginia American Water and Eastman Chemical according to attorney Kevin Thompson.

The settlement is a result of a chemical leak at Freedom Industries contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 customers -- leaving them without clean water for any use other than to flush the toilet.

You can file online at www.wvwaterclaims.com or call 1-855-829-8121. People have until February 21, 2018.

The claims are grouped into six main categories: residential, business, hourly wage loss, medical, pregnancy and government.

Since the deadline is months away, lawyers are urging everyone to take their time and claim as much as they can.


UPDATE 10/13/2017

Those affected by the water crisis in January 2014 that disrupted service to more than 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley and beyond can visit an educational forum this weekend to learn how to file legal claims.
The event will take place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14 in the Little Theater at the Charleston Civic Center.

Claims for the $151 million class action lawsuit will be accepted beginning Wednesday Oct. 11, both by mail and online.

Lawyers and legal staff will be available Saturday to answer questions about the various claims that can be filed. They are grouped into six main categories: residential, business, hourly wage loss, medical, pregnancy and government.

Forms for all of the types of claims will be available at the event.


UPDATE 9/22/2017

Forms to claim money in the 2014 water crisis will be mailed to homes in the affected areas in the coming weeks.

Claims for the $151 million class action lawsuit will be accepted beginning Oct. 11, both by mail and online.

Thursday, a federal judge gave preliminary approval to the plan. According to plaintiffs attorney Kevin Thompson, "the plan allows for a Simple Claim Form Options that don't require receipts or much back up documentation."

Impacted residential households will receive $550 plus $180 per additional resident.

Shutdown Business Claims - $1875 plus 4 percent of annual revenue up to $41,875

Lodging Business Claims - $5,000 to $64,000 based on annual revenue.

Other Businesses - $1,875

Nonprofit Organizations - $1,875

Thursday's preliminary approval comes after Judge John Copenhaver asked all parties to restructure the settlement in-part because of concern of fairness to certain groups who could file claims.

This amended plan replaces tiered and fixed amounts with percentages and cost-based factors for businesses and medical claims.

"The plan Judge Copenhaver approved places no upper limit on the amount of damages a business can claim if it can prove the claim with receipts and financial statements," Thompson explained.

"In about three weeks, households and businesses should start getting claim forms in the mail and after the notices are mailed a website will go live where people and businesses can file claims online."

The settlement is a result of a chemical leak at Freedom Industries contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 customers -- leaving them without clean water for any use other than to flush the toilet.


UPDATE 9/21/2017

A revised class-action settlement in a water crisis that left nearly 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley and beyond without water has been granted preliminary approval, according to a federal court order released Thursday.

The drinking water was contaminated in January 2014 when a chemical used to clean coal spilled from a storage tank at the now-defunct Freedom Industries, polluting the Elk River upstream from the system's water intake.

According to a court order from the Southern West Virginia District of U.S. District Court, the class notice period will begin Oct. 11 and end Nov. 8.

A final settlement hearing is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 9. The deadline for claims submissions is Feb. 21, 2018.

Earlier this year, Judge John Copenhaver raised concerns about previous terms of the negotiated $151 million settlement with West Virginia American Water Co. and Eastman Chemical.

This amended plan replaces tiered and fixed amounts with percentages and cost-based factors for businesses and medical claims.

The amended plan would raise payments for a simple household claim from $525 to $550, plus allow $180 for each additional household resident.


UPDATE 8/29/17

A revised class-action settlement plan is back before a federal judge deciding how to pay victims of a chemical spill that left people without tap water for up to nine days.

The drinking water of about 300,000 people in the greater Charleston area was contaminated in January 2014 when a chemical used to clean coal spilled from a storage tank at the now-defunct Freedom Industries, polluting the Elk River upstream from the system's water intake.

Judge John Copenhaver raised concerns about previous terms of the negotiated $151 million settlement with West Virginia American Water Co. and Eastman Chemical.

This amended plan replaces tiered and fixed amounts with percentages and cost-based factors for businesses and medical claims.

It would raise payment for a simple household claim from $525 to $550.


UPDATE 7/6/17

U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver Jr. has denied the class action settlement proposal on behalf of the victims of the 2014 water crisis, Eastman Chemical and West Virginia American Water.

The proposed settlement agreement presented to the court was $151 million. The proposal had the money set for distribution among residents, businesses and other entities like non-profit organizations whose drinking water was contaminated by the spill at Freedom Industries.

That spill of the chemical MCHM into the Elk River affected more than 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley and beyond.

Copenhaver's order was denied without prejudice, meaning both sides can refile a settlement agreement that meets the standards put forth in his order.

In the order, the judge raised concerns about the fairness of the money being awarded to certain business owners and about the fairness of who can apply for the settlement money and the timeliness of the settlements being awarded to victims of the spill.

Copenhaver also raised concerns about the award of attorneys' fee, reimbursement of costs, and incentive awards.

Attorney Stuart Calwell, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, said this about the settlement:

"As always, we appreciate the Court's insightful and thorough analysis of the settlement achieved here and will work to address the concerns raised in his opinion. In our view, those concerns, once met, will only strengthen the settlement and the ability of those impacted to receive fair compensation. We now turn our attention to addressing those concerns as quickly as possible."

West Virginia American Water Company spokeswoman Laura Martin said the following:

"The parties, as recognized by the court, put substantial effort into negotiating this settlement. We are evaluating the judge's order and anticipate responding to the court's concerns with further good faith settlement negotiations."

A copy of the legal document is attached with this story.


UPDATE 4/28/17

Hundreds of thousands of West Virginia residents and businesses could be just a few months away from cash payouts after the 2014 water crisis.

For residential households, the estimated amount owed is $525 plus $170 for every additional person. For businesses forced to shut down, it could be up to $40,000. For people who have extra documentation, they could be eligible for much, much more.

This is all from the MCHM spill that went into the Elk River, forcing many to go for several weeks without tap water.

Late Thursday, both sides asked the federal judge to grant preliminary approval for the monetary amounts, as well as other details like the proof needed for the $151 million class action suit.

Once the claim process is open, people will be able to make a claim online or through the mail.

While some customers like Ford B. Jenkins said the money is great, others like Bradley Andrews still worry about what the future could bring.

Tap water isn't taken for granted by Jenkins anymore.

"Heavens no."

Even three years later, he still doesn’t drink it.

“I don't drink nothing but boiled water."

For three weeks in 2014, he lost access to water during the MCHM spill. He still remembers the distinctive smell of licorice.

"I don't like it."

The proposed settlement would give Jenkins $525, which he says is great. But even that amount isn't worth what he went through.

"No, no it's not."

Andrews had four kids and a mother in his home in 2014.

He’s using water in his garden Friday, but it wasn't available for drinking, showering or any other use during the crisis. He spent a lot of money on bottled water.

“It's a lot of water,” Andrews said. “I can't really put a definitive figure on it."

As things stand currently, he stands to get a payout amount of almost $1,400.

"It's a mere pittance."

He's worried about health issues that may pop up in the future due to the exposure, especially for his kids. He said $1,400 won't cover those problems.

"For the years and long-term effects that could result from such an ordeal, that's nothing," he said.

It's not nothing for Jenkins. But he says the money may go right back to utility companies to pay the bills. And he's still not drinking from the tap.

"You got to look at it and smell it," he said.

A total of $76 million minus attorney fees has been set aside for simple claims where no receipts are needed. There’s also $75 million set out for residents and businesses who can document that their damage is more than that.

Federal Class Counsel says if the judge gives preliminary approval and no one objects and files an appeal, the money could be made available 30 days after the final hearing. The best case scenario would be this summer, although there could be delays.

A community meeting to talk about the situation is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 2, at the University of Charleston's Geary Student Union in the Appalachian Room.


ORIGINAL STORY 4/27/17

A proposed settlement has been filed in the 2014 water crisis and now is awaiting a federal judge’s approval.

The proposed settlement agreement is $151 million. It details how it would be distributed to residents and businesses affected by the Freedom Industries chemical spill that contaminated the drinking water for days.

That spill affected more than 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley and beyond.

A West Virginia American spokesperson said the court must first approve the settlement before it can move forward. If and when the court grants approval, residents and businesses impacted by the Freedom Industries spill will receive notice by mail, email and through the media detailing when and how to make their claims.

Under the proposal, the payouts would look like this:

Residential Households -- $525 + $170 per additional resident
Shutdown Business Claims -- $6,250 to $25,000
Lodging Business Claims -- $10,000 to $40,000
Other Businesses -- $1,875
Nonprofit Organizations -- $1,875
We are still going through the 220-page legal document regarding the proposed settlement.

West Virginia American Water released the following statement:

"In October 2016, West Virginia American Water reached a preliminary global settlement resolving federal and state lawsuits against the company related to the January 2014 Freedom Industries spill. This settlement allows us to put these cases behind us and is not an admission of any liability or fault on the company’s part. We remain committed to delivering clean, safe, reliable and affordable water service to our customers. Today, the parties to the Freedom Industries spill litigation filed a proposed settlement agreement spelling out how the settlement fund of up to $151 million will be distributed to local residents and businesses and seeking preliminary court approval of the settlement."



 
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