Thousands of Kanawha Valley residents, businesses and workers now can file claims to receive their share of the $151 million settlement of the class-action lawsuit over the January 2014 water crisis.
This week, tens of thousands of notices about the settlement went out in the mail, along with separate notices that were emailed to a list of West Virginia American Water Co. customers.
Notices sent by mail include the simple claim form that most residents can use to file their claims. Claims can also be filed online and paper copies of claim forms downloaded from the settlement website, https://www.wvwaterclaims.com/. More information is available by calling 1-855-829-8121 or reading the “Frequently Asked Questions” list on the website.
Deadline for filing claims is Feb. 21, 2018, under an order issued by U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver Jr., who is overseeing the case.
“This is the only way to make sure you get any money from the settlement,” the notice mailed out this week says in encouraging claims to be filed.
Under the settlement, residential households — including homeowners and renters — can file a simple claim form and obtain $550 for the first resident and $180 for each additional resident. Residents also may file more detailed information about their losses — for things such as bottled water or replacement appliances — if they provide proof of those expenditures on a separate type of claim form.
The settlement also provides additional payments to women who were pregnant at the time of the chemical spill that sparked the water crisis, residents who had medical expenses and hourly-wage earners who lost money when businesses they worked in closed during the crisis. Government agencies also are eligible to submit claims.
Residents, businesses and others don’t have to have previously hired a lawyer or signed up for a lawsuit to be eligible, but they do have to file claims.
Anyone who falls within the definition of the “class” covered by the settlement can file a claim for compensation. The class covered by the case includes 224,000 residents and 7,300 businesses. It includes basically any business or resident who received tap water from the Elk River intake plant and any hourly-wage earner whose employer closed because of the spill and resulting water system contamination.
In the case, lawyers for residents and businesses had alleged that West Virginia American did not adequately prepare for or respond to the spill and that MCHM-maker Eastman did not properly warn Freedom of the dangers of its chemical or take any action when Eastman officials learned that the Freedom facility was in disrepair. West Virginia American and Eastman continue to deny any liability. They say the blame for the crisis rests with Freedom Industries, which admitted to criminal pollution violations related to the spill.
Distribution of the settlement funds will not start until the settlement receives final approval from Copenhaver, following a hearing scheduled for Jan. 9, and until after the Feb. 21 deadline for filing claims.
Members of the class have the right to “opt-out” of the settlement or to object to certain terms of the deal. The deadline for opting out or filing objections is Dec. 8. Class members also may ask for permission to speak during the Jan. 9 hearing on the settlement.