Judge OKs settlement in Nitro tire fire case

By Kelly Holleran | Dec 17, 2008

CHARLESTON -- A Kanawha County judge has approved a settlement in a lawsuit involving nearly 6,000 St. Albans and Nitro households after a 2006 fire.

Each of the affected households in the Nitro area are eligible to receive up to $291 and those in the St. Albans area qualify for about $68 to $73 per household, said Alex McLaughlin, counsel for area residents.

Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. approved a settlement Dec. 15 against U.S. Tire Recovery and Chemvalley Properties after a massive fire broke out May 4, 2006, requiring some residents to stay in their homes for nearly a day.

The fire began in a 19th Street warehouse in Nitro leased by U.S. Tire Recovery and owned by Chemvalley, according to the first complaint filed May 5, 2006, in Kanawha Circuit Court.

The fire, which was started after as many as 50,000 tires were doused with flammable liquid, caused a shelter-in-place alert from May 4 until 11 a.m. May 5, the complaint states.

The complaint's lead plaintiff was Marietta Angel, who took over Stephen D. Gillam's spot.

In the suit, Angel and other plaintiffs alleged the fire caused "a cloud of toxic fumes, vapors and precipitate to settle over the Nitro area, forcing residents, including plaintiffs, to 'shelter-in-place' to avoid breathing the dangerous byproducts of rubber tire combustion."

Residents also claimed they suffered from a diminution of value of their property, loss of use and enjoyment of their properties, annoyance and inconvenience and punitive damages as a result of the fire.

As a result of the settlement, U.S. Tire Recovery and Chemvalley Properties will pay $1.175 million into a trust that will be distributed to households put under the shelter-in-place restriction.

Of that, each household is eligible to receive $14 to $15 per hour they were ordered to stay home, McLaughlin said.

Some Nitro residents, who were among those living in the core area, had to stay in their homes for up to 19 hours. Most St. Albans residents were not in the core area and were not required to stay in their homes as long, McLaughlin said.

Their two lawyers – Stuart Calwell and Alex McLaughlin of The Calwell Practice – will receive $475,000 for their work on the case.

Any remaining money will be given to the St. Albans and Nitro fire departments.

However, if all of the 6,000 households participate in the settlement, there will be nothing left to give the fire departments, McLaughlin said.

As of Dec. 12, The Calwell Practice has received 1,574 claim forms, McLaughlin said.

Households have until Jan. 7 to file a claim.

Initial letters were sent Oct. 9 informing households of their ability to file a claim.

Some claim forms were defective. For example, some were left unsigned.

However, households will receive an additional mailing with a chance to correct their mistakes, McLaughlin said.

Hopefully the lawsuit will show residents, especially those who reside in the Kanawha Valley, that they do not have to endure the abuse of companies like U.S. Tire Recovery and Chemvalley Properties, said McLaughlin.

He also hopes it had an impact on the companies.

"The defendants were operating illegally and hopefully this will deter them from like conduct in the future," he said.

To obtain a claim form, residents can visit www.nitrofiresettlement.com or can call 1-888-233-5506.

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