By July 7, 2017 Read More →

Judge wants changes to WV water crisis legal settlement

By KEN WARD  JR.

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal judge late this afternoon declined to grant preliminary approval to a $151 million settlement of the class-action litigation over the January 2014 water crisis, saying he wanted changes made to the deal before it is published for review by the thousands of Kanawha Valley residents and businesses covered by it.

U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. outlined his concerns about the settlement in a 93-page order issued a little more than two months after detailed terms of the deal with West Virginia American Water Co. and Eastman Chemical were first made public in court filings by the parties.

The judge said he was troubled by language in the deal that provides for tiered payments to different sized businesses and by issues regarding the resolution of appeals of claims filed by spill victims seeking their share of the settlement. Copenhaver also raised questions about fixed base payments for medical claims and some provisions of the settlement that he said would cause delays in payments to spill victims.

“The court declines to approve the proposed settlement until the parties submit an agreement and preliminary approval motion meeting the foregoing conditions,” the judge wrote in his order.

Copenhaver also raised issues about the legal fees being sought by attorneys who brought the case and negotiated the settlement with West Virginia American and Eastman.

The settlement seeks to resolve litigation brought on behalf of an estimated 224,000 residents and more than 8,000 businesses over the water crisis that followed the spill of Crude MCHM and other chemicals from the Freedom Industries facility, located just 1.5 miles upstream from the West Virginia American regional intake on the Elk River.

In the case, lawyers for residents and businesses alleged that West Virginia American did not adequately prepare for or respond to the spill and that MCHM-maker Eastman did not properly warn Freedom Industries of the dangers of its chemical or take any action when Eastman officials learned that the Freedom facility was in disrepair.

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