CHARLESTON – A handful of lawsuits were filed Friday related to 2014’s Elk River Chemical Spill.
Saturday, Jan. 9, was the two-year anniversary of the incident that left about 300,000 residents without access to tap water for nine days. Lawsuits must be filed within two years of an event to fall under the statute of limitations.
In one lawsuit, the City of Charleston and Kanawha County – as well as the Kanawha County Commission, the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health – are listed as the plaintiffs. West Virginia-American Water Company, American Water Works Company, American Water Works Service Company, Eastman Chemical, Gary Southern and Dennis Farrell as listed as the defendants.
The plaintiffs claim the defendants could have prevented or avoided the accident with precautionary measures, compliance and reasonable care. The City of Charleston says businesses that pay taxes lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue because of the spill and that property values have been jeopardized because of the spill, both affecting the city’s tax base. All of the plaintiffs say they suffered from the costs and expenses related to the spill, a loss of taxes, future expenses, reputation damages and other damages.
They seek compensatory and punitive damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, an order establishing a medical monitoring program to be operated by the Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health, court costs, attorney fees and other relief. They are represented by William C. Forbes and W. Jesse Forbes of Forbes Law Offices PLLC and Timothy J. DiPiero, Sean P. McGinley and Robert M. Bastress of DiTrapano Barrett DiPiero McGinley & Simmons PLLC. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman.
In another lawsuit filed Jan. 8, a Kanawha County man claims Little Caesar’s pizza locations in Kanawha County did not follow the ban on water usage in the days after the spill and sold pizzas made with possibly contaminated water.
Leonard Craig Jarvis filed the potential class action against Little Caesar Enterprises Inc. and VDM Management. He says employees at Little Caesar’s in Kanawha County lied about using possibly contaminated water and “staged” large pots to create the impression they were boiling water.
He seeks compensatory, punitive and special damages as well as damages for undue and unreasonable harassment, oppression, abuse, aggravation, annoyance and inconvenience. He also seeks pre- and post-judgment interest, court costs, attorney fees and other relief. He is represented by Anthony Majestro and J.C. Powell of Powell & Majestro PLLC, James C. Peterson of Hill Peterson Carper Bee & Deitzler PLLC and Timothy Bailey of Bailey Javins & Carter LC, all of Charleston.
WVAWC has been the subject of several lawsuits related to the January 2014 chemical leak that affected the water supply of more than 300,000 residents.
On Jan. 9, an estimated 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM leaked from Freedom Industries’ Etowah River Terminal along the Elk River. Customers in parts of nine counties who use West Virginia-American Water Company were without tap water for days. WVAWC’s intake facility along the Elk River is just more than a mile downstream from the leak site.
The week after the leak, Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy. As a result, many plaintiffs have since removed Freedom as a defendant in the lawsuits.
Court documents show there have been nearly 100 lawsuits filed over the leak. Of those, about half seek class-action status. And all of the complaints have claims similar claims such as bodily injury, emotional distress, annoyance, loss of enjoyment, nuisance, inconvenience, requests for medical monitoring, lost income and loss of business revenue.
Of the complaints filed in various state and federal courts, some list Freedom and WVAWC as defendants and others list just Freedom or just WVAWC. Some also list Eastman Chemical, which produces the crude MCHM. Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy Jan. 17.
Kanawha Circuit Court case numbers 16-C-31 (Little Caesar’s), 16-C-32 (Charleston and Kanawha)