West Virginia Record

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Water crisis attorneys seek $45 million in legal fees, court expenses

By Chris Dickerson | May 10, 2017

Law money 10

CHARLESTON – The attorneys for plaintiffs in the 2014 water crisis litigation have asked a federal judge to approve more than $45 million in fees and expenses for their work on the case.

In a May 8 filing, the lawyers followed up on the filing last month detailing the proposed $151 million settlement agreement with West Virginia American Water Company and Eastman Chemical that would provide payment to the nearly 225,000 residents affected by the chemical spill that left people in nine counties without water for days in January 2014.

The attorneys seek about $43 million in legal fees and $2.4 million in expenses, according to the court filing. The $151 million settlement would provide an estimated $525 to each household affected by the 2014 chemical spill that contaminated the water supply for residents in nine counties.

Terms of the proposed class-action settlement were revealed April 27 in federal court documents. Attorneys involved in the case asked District Judge John Copenhaver Jr. to give his preliminary approval to the 220-page settlement.

West Virginia American Water has agreed to pay $126 million, and Eastman Chemical has agreed to pay $25 million.

Customers of West Virginia American Water Company would have to file claim forms to get their piece of the settlement. Additional monies would be provided for each additional person in a household, and claimants can provide receipts for items such as bottled water and replacement hot water heaters for additional funds. Pregnant women and people who can provide proof of medical expenses related to the incident also would be entitled to additional money. The same goes for people who lost wages because their employers were forced to close because of the spill.

Businesses, government agencies and non-profit groups would receive between $6,250 and $40,000, depending on different variables, if they were forced to close. Businesses that didn’t have to close can receive a payment of $1,850.

Exact amounts could change depending on the number of claims.

In October, parties in the case agreed to the terms of the deal just before the trial was scheduled to begin. The case stemmed from an incident in January 2014 when a tank at Freedom Industries in Charleston leaked crude MCHM into the adjacent Elk River. The site was just upstream from the water company’s intake plant. Nine counties and almost 225,000 residents were affected by the incident. Eastman is the company that manufactured the MCHM and didn’t warn Freedom of all of the dangers of the chemical used to wash coal.

Now that the settlement has been filed, Copenhaver will decide to preliminary approve it. That requires public notice of the terms and gives residents the ability to opt out of the settlement.

If approved by the court, the firm of Smith, Cochran & Hicks will serve as settlement administrator.

Attorneys would get 30 percent of the total payments made up to the first $101 million of the settlement. After that, they would get 25 percent of the amount paid up to the remaining $50 million. The attorneys also ask for 30 percent of $400,000 of the settlement submitted by former Freedom Industries officials Gary Southern and Dennis Farrell.

Eleven law firms ask for payment in the latest filing. A further breakdown shows the amount of time worked and money sought for by dozens of attorneys, paralegals and other staff members.

The firms listed as “class counsel” are Bonnett Fairbourne Friendman & Balint, The Calwell Practice and Thompson Barney. Other firms that represented plaintiffs in state court litigation are Powell & Majestro, Bailey & Glasser, The Masters Law Firm, Smith Stag, Underwood Law Office, Hare Wynn Newell & Newton, The Law Office of P. Rodney Jackson and Ciccarello, De Giudice & LaFon.

The filing also asks Copenhaver to approve “incentive awards” of $15,000 for 11 people and businesses that served as class representatives in federal court.

For more information, people can visit the settlement website at www.wvwaterclaims.com or by calling 855-829-8121.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case number: 2:14-cv-01374

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Organizations in this Story

Powell and MajestroThe Masters Law Firm LCThompson BarneyCiccarello, Del Giudice and LaFonHare, Wynn, Newell & NewtonCalwell Luce diTrapano PLLCBailey & Glasser LLPU.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia Charleston DivisionUnderwood Law Offices