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Claims in WV water crisis reflect huge participation rate, lawyers say

A $151 million class-action settlement over the 2014 Kanawha Valley water crisis might be completely paid out, the most recent report of the settlement administrator shows.

All told, there were 95,155 claim forms worth $159,102,307 in settlements, according to the eight-page Periodic Report of the Settlement Administrator report filed in federal court Tuesday afternoon. The deadline to file a claim was Feb. 21.

The turnout rate, lawyers said, was especially pleasing.

“I’ve done a number of class actions in areas of West Virginia and elsewhere and usually the so-called participation rate is usually quite low, surprisingly,” said Stuart Calwell, a lead lawyer for businesses and residents. “But in this case it looks as though the entirety of the settlement will be paid out.”

The claims reflect 86,917 households — about 74 percent of residents on a known customer list who filed claims. There were 5,683 business claims, 408 government entity claims, 500 wage earner claims, 1,302 pregnancy claims and 345 medical claims, court documents show.

The lawsuit alleges West Virginia American Water Company didn’t react to or prepare for the spill when, in January 2014, the chemical MCHM spilled from a Freedom Industries tank into the Elk River. MCHM-maker Eastman Chemical Co. didn’t properly warn Freedom Industries of the chemical’s dangers or take any action, the lawsuit alleges. Both companies place blame on Freedom Industries, which admitted to criminal violations following the spill.

The settlement covered anyone who may have received tap water from the Elk River, or whose business had to close because of the spill — in all, a class of about 224,000 residents and 8,000 businesses.

Now, administrators are tasked with checking for duplicate claims, consolidating claims filed by several people with the same address and finding claims filed without stating the claimed value or providing documentation that the business was shut down.

“These are not approved amounts,” the report warns.

Then, the amounts payable will likely be adjusted for the $151 million settlement.

“I think it’s going to be remarkably close to matching up and depleting those funds,” Calwell said.

Lawyers are waiting for U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver to enter his final approval of the settlement.

“We’re anticipating the judge will enter the final approval soon,” said Anthony Majestro, another lawyer for the residents.

Reach Kate Mishkin at kate.mishkin@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4843 or follow @katemishkin on Twitter.

Funerals for Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Amos, Jan - 2 p.m., McGhee-Handley Funeral Home, West Hamlin.

Cantley, Shirley - Noon, Hopkins Fork Community Church.

Collins, John - 1 p.m., Central United Baptist Church, Logan.

Jett, Roland - 1 p.m., America Legion Hall.

Lowe, Angela - 8 p.m., Honaker Funeral Home, Logan.

May, Gary - 1 p.m., Taylor Funeral Home, Spencer.

Payne Sr., Merle - 11 a.m., Simons - Coleman Funeral Home, Richwood.

Short, Carl - 7:30 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Townsend, John - Noon, Casdorph & Curry Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Walker, Franklin - 1:30 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Zachwieja, Sandra - 12:30 p.m., Catholic Church of the Ascension, Hurricane.