BECKLEY – Three weeks before a scheduled trial in the second phase of a giant court contest over a flood that pounded southern West Virginia five years ago, the parties postponed the trial indefinitely.
Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht had set trial at Raleigh County courthouse in Beckley Sept. 5, but on Aug. 16 he scratched the setting.
He extended to Aug. 18 a deadline for plaintiffs to respond to preliminary motions of defendants. He extended to Sept. 8 a deadline for the defense to reply to the plaintiffs.
Recht and two other circuit judges handle the flood litigation by special assignment of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
The flood destroyed and damaged homes and businesses in seven West Virginia counties.
In Kentucky, the flood caused two deaths, but in West Virginia no one died.
After the flood thousands of plaintiffs sued hundreds of defendants, claiming they altered the landscape in ways that made the flood worse.
Plaintiffs directed most of their claims against coal mines, timber companies and railroads.
The Supreme Court of Appeals consolidated the cases and divided them into three groups according to watersheds.
The Court assigned one group to Recht, one to Raleigh County Circuit Judge John Hutchison, and one to Nicholas County Circuit Judge Dan Johnson.
The Court decided to conduct all proceedings at Beckley.
Under the Court's plan, each judge would first conduct a trial on liability. If a jury established liability, the judge would then hold a trial to determine damages.
Hutchison held the first trial this spring on claims from the vicinity of Mullens and Oceana.
All defendants settled during the trial except Western Pocahontas Properties. Jurors found Western Pocahontas Properties liable.
Hutchison has not set a date for the damages trial. He set an Aug. 11 hearing on motions but cancelled it when a criminal case took priority.
Recht's trial will cover the Coal River watershed.