A federal judge said Thursday that he is close to granting final approval to a $151 million settlement of the class action lawsuit over the January 2014 water crisis in the Kanawha Valley.
U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. told lawyers in the matter that the case is “in the posture for a final order” that would be issued soon.
Copenhaver made his comments during a morning hearing held after he received updated data from the settlement’s administrator about how many Kanawha Valley residents and businesses have filed claims for compensation for the loss of their drinking water following the chemical spill at the Freedom Industries facility located just upstream from West Virginia American Water’s regional intake on the Elk River.
The most recent data, through the end of the day Wednesday, showed that 64,000 claims have been filed so far in the case, according to John Jenkins from the settlement administrator’s office.
Currently, the deadline for filing claims in the settlement with West Virginia American and Eastman Chemical is Feb. 21. Distribution of claims money won’t start until after that. More information can be found and claims may be filed at www.wvwaterclaims.com.
Under the settlement, residential households — homeowners as well as renters — may 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.
Businesses and nonprofit organizations may likewise obtain flat payments, based on their size, or can submit documentation of specific losses to have those recouped.
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.
In the case, lawyers for residents and businesses had alleged that West Virginia American did not adequately prepare for or respond to the Jan. 9, 2014, spill just upstream from the company’s Elk River regional drinking water intake, 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.
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 may file a claim for compensation. The class 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.