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Gazette editorial: Making good on water failure

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail file photo
A water fountain at George Washington High School during the 2014 water crisis.

A settlement pending before U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver offers real and practical payment to the majority of the 300,000 people who experienced the 2014 water crisis.

The settlement with West Virginia American Water Co. and Eastman Chemical Co. would provide $151 million and applies to people who got their tap water from West Virginia American on Jan. 9, 2014, the day the public figured out that the chemical MCHM was leaking into their Elk River drinking water from the former Freedom Industries tank farm.

The group includes homeowners and renters; businesses, nonprofit and government entities; and hourly wage-earners employed by those businesses. The proposed settlement includes:

n A payment for all members of the class-action lawsuit. With a simple claim form residential customers can get $525 for the first resident and $170 for each additional household member.

n Separate provisions for women who were pregnant at the time and for people who believe they suffered larger damages, such as replacing appliances or staying in hotels.

n Separate provisions and claim forms for all businesses, nonprofits and government offices affected, with additional money available to those forced to close.

n Separate provisions for people who suffered permanent injury or wrongful deaths.

n Hourly wages for people who can show what they could have earned if their employers had not been closed.

These provisions address serious concerns that in 2014 people weren’t sure would ever be addressed — such as the loss of income to people whose employers closed and the extra expenses to households and businesses, especially for those whose budgets were tight to begin with.

For the majority of more than 100,000 affected households and 7,000 businesses, this is a good settlement.

If the judge approves it, formal notices will be sent to those concerned and deadlines will be set for filing claims. If approved, claim forms will be available online at www.wvwaterclaims.com or by calling 1-855-829-8121.

Dozens of attorneys from multiple firms worked on this case. They have asked the judge for nearly $43 million in fees plus $2.4 million in expenses. Is that too much? The attorneys make an argument for the complexity of the case and the time, personnel and expenses involved. The judge will have to rule on that question, as well.

The attorneys’ three years of work is certainly worth something.

They have achieved a meaningful settlement, with the potential to truly restore lost wages and expenses of many people whose lives and livelihoods were so disrupted that winter. Claim forms appear to be simple enough for families to handle themselves. If requirements to prove certain circumstances are as straightforward and reasonable as proposed, this settlement could do right by a lot of people.

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