UPDATE: Nearly $3M in more water crisis settlement checks to be sent

By  | 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- UPDATE 1/3/19 @ 1:06 p.m.
A lawyer for West Virginia residents affected by a 2014 chemical spill into the Elk River says another batch of settlement checks from a class-action lawsuit is going in the mail.

Attorney Anthony Majestro tells The Charleston Gazette-Mail that U.S. District Court Judge John Copenhaver approved the distribution of more than 1,500 individual review option claims totaling nearly $3 million. Majestro says the people will receive their checks in seven days.

The residents and businesses had sued after a chemical known as crude MCHM spilled from a storage tank at Freedom Industries into the Elk River. The spill was upriver from a water plant in Charleston, and people were told not to drink or clean with the water for days. It contaminated water for roughly 300,000 people.



UPDATE 9/18/18 @ 4:20 p.m.
More information about what to do with your water settlement check has been released.

We have heard of some issues people have had cashing the checks, including long wait times and some banks turning people away.

On Tuesday, the wait time at the Fifth Third Bank location in downtown Charleston was two hours.

According to plaintiffs' attorney Kevin Thompson, who is handling the water settlement, you can deposit your check into your checking account to receive the funds.

Each bank has its own rules and regulations about when that money is available.

If you do not have a checking account, you can cash your check at any Fifth Third Bank location. The Federal Judge handling the case appointed the bank to handle the settlement money for the case. Fifth Third Bank will cash checks for free. You must bring an ID. If you are cashing a check for a child, you must have their birth certificate.

For more information about legal issues with the reimbursement funds, see the story below.



UPDATE 9/17/18 @ 6:28 p.m.
Settlement checks for those impacted by the 2014 water crisis are arriving in mailboxes. As people get their checks, Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV) is offering assistance to those who have questions about penalties to their benefits.

LAWV created a designated hotline for people who live in West Virginia and are on public benefits, but may see those benefits reduced or eliminated because of the water settlement payments. That number is 1-877-331-4259.

Some 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley were unable to use their drinking water for two weeks in 2014 when a chemical leaked into the Elk River from corroding tanks at Freedom Industries.

On Friday, settlement checks were mailed out to people who filed simple residential claims. They should arrive in the next few days if people have not received them already.

"Some individuals who received settlement payments also get public benefits from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) or who get SSI," LAWV stated. "Examples of benefits are SNAP (also called food stamps), WV WORKS (also called TANF), Medicaid, CHIP, and Supplemental Security Income (also called SSI)."

If you want more information about how to avoid benefits penalties, you can visit this website: www.lawv.net/WaterSettlementBenefits. You can also call 1-877-331-4259 with any questions.



UPDATE 9/10/18 @ 11:56 p.m.
Settlement checks for those impacted by the 2014 water crisis are expected to be sent out on Friday.

That's according to attorneys working the case, who say that the amount of the checks will actually be less than originally expected because of the amount of people who applied for the settlement check.

Plaintiff attorney Kevin Thompson says that the "head of household" check will now be $482. It's 12 percent less than what people were expecting.

"That's a disappointment, but Judge Copenhaver told us to comb the forest and he wanted to make sure everybody got a check, understanding that if everybody got a check it may not be as much as if only a few people got a check," Thompson said.

Normally, Thompson says in a case like this there is about a 35 percent response rate. In the case of the water settlement that return rate was around 90 percent.

Some 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley were unable to use their drinking water for two weeks in 2014 when a chemical leaked into the Elk River from corroding tanks at Freedom Industries.

Additional checks for the more complex claims (i.e. medical, pregnancy and larger business claims) will go out after the simple claims have been paid.



UPDATE 8/31/18 @ 5:10 p.m.
New information is being released about the 2014 water crisis settlement checks.

According to Plaintiff Attorney Kevin Thompson, the judge in the case ordered attorneys to obtain a larger settlement from the personal accounts of former Freedom Industries CEO Gary Southern.

The original amount Southern was ordered to pay was $350,000. The new settlement amount is for $1 million.

The overall settlement is for more than $151 million. It comes after a chemical leaked into the Elk River in Jan. of 2014, contaminating drinking water for more than 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley for nearly two weeks. West Virginia American Water customers could only use the water for flushing toilets.

Thompson said the simple and residential checks were set to go out, but they wanted to wait and have the additional money prior to sending them out.

He says the simple and residential checks are expected to go out 10 days after the judge approves the new settlement with Southern.

Additional checks for the more complex claims (i.e. medical, pregnancy and larger business claims) will go out after the simple claims have been paid.

UPDATE 6/27/18 @ 10 p.m.
Those who were affected, and filed claims connected to the January 2014 water crisis will finally be getting their checks.

Earlier this month, a judge granted the final approval of a $151 million settlement after West Virginia's water crisis.

However, some folks who made small mistakes on their paperwork may have to wait just a while longer.

Kevin Thompson from the Class Action Council says not to worry if you made a mistake, you will still get your check.

"Most of the problems are very easy fixes, in fact every one of these letters is going to have a phone number on it. Some of the problems can be fixed just by calling and saying 'my address is 2100 Elm Street, not 210 Elm Street.' " Thompson said.

He also says that they have sent out letters to those who have made small errors, and getting the error corrected could be as easy as picking up your phone.

If you or someone you know receives a letter, you are urged to respond by July 26.



UPDATE 6/9/18 @ 12 a.m.
A judge on Friday granted final approval in the West Virginia water crisis settlement.

U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver Jr. granted his final approval of the 2014 water crisis settlement, bringing residents and businesses one step closer to receiving settlement checks.

There's a 30-day appeal window. After that, West Virginia American Water company and Eastman Chemical Company will have to pay the $151 million dollar settlement.

Those who filed claims in the class-action lawsuit will then begin receiving their checks.

The lawsuit stems from 2014 when a chemical spilled from a storage tank at Freedom Industries into the Elk River -- upriver from West Virginia American Water's plant in Charleston.

The settlement is supposed to cover the 300,000 people who were told not to drink, clean with or bathe in the water for days after the spill.



UPDATE 5/24/18 @ 4:10 p.m.
A lawyer for West Virginia residents affected by a 2014 chemical spill says they will not receive settlements until a judge's final approval and administrators finish processing the over 95,000 claims.

Attorney Anthony Majestro tells The Charleston Gazette-Mail no one will be paid without U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr.'s order.

The $151 million class-action settlement covered anyone who may have received tap water from West Virginia American Water Company's Elk River intake plant or businesses that suffered from the spill at Freedom Industries. An estimated 300,000 people were without water for days.

The lawsuit says West Virginia American didn't react to or prepare for the spill, and Eastman Chemical Co. didn't properly warn Freedom about the chemical's dangers or take appropriate action.

Freedom has admitted to criminal violations.



UPDATE 2/21/18 @ 6:10 p.m.
More than 70,000 families have already filed claims in a class action lawsuit connected to the January 2014 water crisis that affected more than 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley and beyond.

If you haven't filed yet, there is still time.

You can file your claim until midnight Wednesday at WVWaterclaims.com.

Class action counsel Kevin Thompson says,”Even if you don’t have your documents and paperwork, you can still file your claim. Just fill out the required fields as best you can and file it. You can figure it later because if there’s something missing the settlement administrator will send you a letter telling you what you need and give you time to get it.”



UPDATE 2/1/18 @ 5:28 p.m.
A federal judge has approved the $151 million water crisis settlement. That means everyone affected who submits a claim will receive money following the January 2014 chemical spill. But if you haven’t done so yet, there’s still a few more weeks to fill out the forms.

A chemical used to clean coal spilled from a storage tank at what was once Freedom Industries. It flowed into the Elk River, polluting the drinking water for nearly 300,000 people. A federal judge approved the $151 million settlement, and people like Gina Watts cannot wait for the payouts.

“So we found out about it after we had filled both of our cases, were ready to go for the day,” Watts recalled about what happened in January 2014. “So we had to trash everything."

Gina Watts owns and operates Sugar Pie Bakery.

“Then it was just kind of an ongoing thing you know two and three months later we're still using bottled water just to be in our baked goods, you know anything that required it, just to be sure that everybody who was coming in and getting stuff was going to be safe eating it,” Watts explained.

The bakery closed down for a week, Watts saying it likely cost her thousands of dollars. That’s why she put in a claim.

“Would like to get what we lost. It doesn't have to you know be anything over that,” she said.

And she said she filed one for her home too.

Her two claims are just part of the 64,000 claims that we’re told have already been submitted. But for those on the fence, whatever amount of money is not paid out just goes back to West Virginia American Water and Eastman Chemical.



UPDATE 2/1/18 @ 11:20 a.m.
A class-action settlement in a water crisis that left nearly 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley without water has been finalized.

A federal judge approved the settlement on Thursday morning in Charleston.

The drinking water was contaminated in January 2014 when a chemical used to clean coal spilled from a storage tank at the now-defunct Freedom Industries, polluting the Elk River upstream from the system's water intake.

The $151 million settlement is between West Virginia American Water and Eastman Chemical.

Impacted residential households will receive $550 plus $180 per additional resident.

Shutdown Business Claims - $1875 plus 4 percent of annual revenue up to $41,875

Lodging Business Claims - $5,000 to $64,000 based on annual revenue.

Other Businesses - $1,875

Nonprofit Organizations - $1,875

Nearly 64,000 claims have been filed so far, about 80 percent have been residential claims.

If you don't have a bank or your bank charges a fee for cashing a check, Fifth Third Bank will cash it for you with no fee.

The deadline for claims submissions is Feb. 21, 2018. You can file online at www.wvwaterclaims.com or call 1-855-829-8121.

Checks are expected to be mailed out in May.



UPDATE 10/14/2017 @ 10:00 p.m.
Legal experts are working to teach those affected by the 2014 water crisis in the Kanawha Valley how to file their legal claims in the $151 million settlement.

Lawyers held an educational forum for maxing out your claim at the Civic Center Saturday night.

They say it's important to file a claim. Whatever is not paid out will go back to West Virginia American Water and Eastman Chemical according to attorney Kevin Thompson.

The settlement is a result of a chemical leak at Freedom Industries contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 customers -- leaving them without clean water for any use other than to flush the toilet.

You can file online at www.wvwaterclaims.com or call 1-855-829-8121. People have until February 21, 2018.

The claims are grouped into six main categories: residential, business, hourly wage loss, medical, pregnancy and government.

Since the deadline is months away, lawyers are urging everyone to take their time and claim as much as they can.



UPDATE 10/13/2017
Those affected by the water crisis in January 2014 that disrupted service to more than 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley and beyond can visit an educational forum this weekend to learn how to file legal claims.

The event will take place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14 in the Little Theater at the Charleston Civic Center.

Claims for the $151 million class action lawsuit will be accepted beginning Wednesday Oct. 11, both by mail and online.

Lawyers and legal staff will be available Saturday to answer questions about the various claims that can be filed. They are grouped into six main categories: residential, business, hourly wage loss, medical, pregnancy and government.

Forms for all of the types of claims will be available at the event.

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 9/22/17 @ 8:50 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Forms to claim money in the 2014 water crisis will be mailed to homes in the affected areas in the coming weeks.

Claims for the $151 million class action lawsuit will be accepted beginning Oct. 11, both by mail and online.

Thursday, a federal judge gave preliminary approval to the plan. According to plaintiffs attorney Kevin Thompson, "the plan allows for a Simple Claim Form Options that don't require receipts or much back up documentation."

Impacted residential households will receive $550 plus $180 per additional resident.

Shutdown Business Claims - $1875 plus 4 percent of annual revenue up to $41,875

Lodging Business Claims - $5,000 to $64,000 based on annual revenue.

Other Businesses - $1,875

Nonprofit Organizations - $1,875

Thursday's preliminary approval comes after Judge John Copenhaver asked all parties to restructure the settlement in-part because of concern of fairness to certain groups who could file claims.

This amended plan replaces tiered and fixed amounts with percentages and cost-based factors for businesses and medical claims.

"The plan Judge Copenhaver approved places no upper limit on the amount of damages a business can claim if it can prove the claim with receipts and financial statements," Thompson explained.

"In about three weeks, households and businesses should start getting claim forms in the mail and after the notices are mailed a website will go live where people and businesses can file claims online."

WSAZ will keep you updated on the process.

The settlement is a result of a chemical leak at Freedom Industries contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 customers -- leaving them without clean water for any use other than to flush the toilet.



UPDATE 9/21/17 @ 5 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A revised class-action settlement in a water crisis that left nearly 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley and beyond without water has been granted preliminary approval, according to a federal court order released Thursday.

The drinking water was contaminated in January 2014 when a chemical used to clean coal spilled from a storage tank at the now-defunct Freedom Industries, polluting the Elk River upstream from the system's water intake.

According to a court order from the Southern West Virginia District of U.S. District Court, the class notice period will begin Oct. 11 and end Nov. 8.

A final settlement hearing is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 9. The deadline for claims submissions is Feb. 21, 2018.

Earlier this year, Judge John Copenhaver raised concerns about previous terms of the negotiated $151 million settlement with West Virginia American Water Co. and Eastman Chemical. This amended plan replaces tiered and fixed amounts with percentages and cost-based factors for businesses and medical claims.

The amended plan would raise payments for a simple household claim from $525 to $550, plus allow $180 for each additional household resident.



UPDATE 8/29/17 @ 9:35 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A revised class-action settlement plan is back before a federal judge deciding how to pay victims of a chemical spill that left people without tap water for up to nine days.

The drinking water of about 300,000 people in the greater Charleston area was contaminated in January 2014 when a chemical used to clean coal spilled from a storage tank at the now-defunct Freedom Industries, polluting the Elk River upstream from the system's water intake.

Judge John Copenhaver raised concerns about previous terms of the negotiated $151 million settlement with West Virginia American Water Co. and Eastman Chemical. This amended plan replaces tiered and fixed amounts with percentages and cost-based factors for businesses and medical claims.

It would raise payment for a simple household claim from $525 to $550.



UPDATE 7/6/17 @ 9:40 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver Jr. has denied the class action settlement proposal on behalf of the victims of the 2014 water crisis, Eastman Chemical and West Virginia American Water.

The proposed settlement agreement presented to the court was $151 million. The proposal had the money set for distribution among residents, businesses and other entities like non-profit organizations whose drinking water was contaminated by the spill at Freedom Industries.

That spill of the chemical MCHM into the Elk River affected more than 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley and beyond.

Copenhaver's order was denied without prejudice, meaning both sides can refile a settlement agreement that meets the standards put forth in his order.

In the order, the judge raised concerns about the fairness of the money being awarded to certain business owners and about the fairness of who can apply for the settlement money and the timeliness of the settlements being awarded to victims of the spill.

Copenhaver also raised concerns about the award of attorneys' fee, reimbursement of costs, and incentive awards.

Attorney Stuart Calwell, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, said this about the settlement:

"As always, we appreciate the Court's insightful and thorough analysis of the settlement achieved here and will work to address the concerns raised in his opinion. In our view, those concerns, once met, will only strengthen the settlement and the ability of those impacted to receive fair compensation. We now turn our attention to addressing those concerns as quickly as possible."

West Virginia American Water Company spokeswoman Laura Martin said the following:

"The parties, as recognized by the court, put substantial effort into negotiating this settlement. We are evaluating the judge's order and anticipate responding to the court's concerns with further good faith settlement negotiations."

A copy of the legal document is attached with this story.



UPDATE 4/28/17 @ 5:50 p.m.
DUNBAR, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Hundreds of thousands of West Virginia residents and businesses could be just a few months away from cash payouts after the 2014 water crisis.

For residential households, the estimated amount owed is $525 plus $170 for every additional person. For businesses forced to shut down, it could be up to $40,000. For people who have extra documentation, they could be eligible for much, much more.

This is all from the MCHM spill that went into the Elk River, forcing many to go for several weeks without tap water.

Late Thursday, both sides asked the federal judge to grant preliminary approval for the monetary amounts, as well as other details like the proof needed for the $151 million class action suit.

Once the claim process is open, people will be able to make a claim online or through the mail.

While some customers like Ford B. Jenkins said the money is great, others like Bradley Andrews still worry about what the future could bring.

Tap water isn't taken for granted by Jenkins anymore.

"Heavens no."

Even three years later, he still doesn’t drink it.

“I don't drink nothing but boiled water."

For three weeks in 2014, he lost access to water during the MCHM spill. He still remembers the distinctive smell of licorice.

"I don't like it."

The proposed settlement would give Jenkins $525, which he says is great. But even that amount isn't worth what he went through.

"No, no it's not."

Andrews had four kids and a mother in his home in 2014.

He’s using water in his garden Friday, but it wasn't available for drinking, showering or any other use during the crisis. He spent a lot of money on bottled water.

“It's a lot of water,” Andrews said. “I can't really put a definitive figure on it."

As things stand currently, he stands to get a payout amount of almost $1,400.

"It's a mere pittance."

He's worried about health issues that may pop up in the future due to the exposure, especially for his kids. He said $1,400 won't cover those problems.

"For the years and long-term effects that could result from such an ordeal, that's nothing," he said.

It's not nothing for Jenkins. But he says the money may go right back to utility companies to pay the bills. And he's still not drinking from the tap.

"You got to look at it and smell it," he said.

A total of $76 million minus attorney fees has been set aside for simple claims where no receipts are needed. There’s also $75 million set out for residents and businesses who can document that their damage is more than that.

Federal Class Counsel told WSAZ that if the judge gives preliminary approval and no one objects and files an appeal, the money could be made available 30 days after the final hearing. The best case scenario would be this summer, although there could be delays.

A community meeting to talk about the situation is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 2, at the University of Charleston's Geary Student Union in the Appalachian Room.



ORIGINAL STORY 4/27/17
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A proposed settlement has been filed in the 2014 water crisis and now is awaiting a federal judge’s approval.

The proposed settlement agreement is $151 million. It details how it would be distributed to residents and businesses affected by the Freedom Industries chemical spill that contaminated the drinking water for days.

That spill affected more than 300,000 people in the Kanawha Valley and beyond.

A West Virginia American spokesperson said the court must first approve
the settlement before it can move forward. If and when the court grants approval, residents and businesses impacted by the Freedom Industries spill will receive notice by mail, email and through the media detailing when and how to make their claims.

Under the proposal, the payouts would look like this:

  • Residential Households -- $525 + $170 per additional resident
  • Shutdown Business Claims -- $6,250 to $25,000
  • Lodging Business Claims -- $10,000 to $40,000
  • Other Businesses -- $1,875
  • Nonprofit Organizations -- $1,875

We are still going through the 220-page legal document regarding the proposed settlement.

West Virginia American Water released the following statement:

"In October 2016, West Virginia American Water reached a preliminary global settlement resolving federal and state lawsuits against the company related to the January 2014 Freedom Industries spill. This settlement allows us to put these cases behind us and is not an admission of any liability or fault on the company’s part. We remain committed to delivering clean, safe, reliable and affordable water service to our customers. Today, the parties to the Freedom Industries spill litigation filed a proposed settlement agreement spelling out how the settlement fund of up to $151 million will be distributed to local residents and businesses and seeking preliminary court approval of the settlement."

You can read more about the settlement proposal by clicking on the related link.

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.



 
Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station. powered by Disqus