Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

2014 CHEMICAL SPILL ; Lawyer: Case Larger Than Bottled Water Costs

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

2014 CHEMICAL SPILL ; Lawyer: Case Larger Than Bottled Water Costs

Article excerpt

A class-action lawsuit over the water crisis that followed the January 2014 Elk River chemical spill is about a lot more than the costs of bottled water or even spill-related medical expenses, a lawyer for hundreds of thousands of Kanawha Valley residents told a federal judge Friday. Charleston attorney Stuart Calwell said an eventual trial in the case - against West Virginia American Water and Eastman Chemical - needs to focus more broadly on the community- wide disruption that occurred when residents and businesses across the region had to go for a week or more without access to reliable drinking water from their taps.

"We think that was an unnecessary burden to put on people," Calwell said. "That's a big piece of this case. This is more important than that other stuff. It adds up to a lot of money."

Calwell made his remarks during a monthly status hearing with U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver Jr., in response to comments from lawyers from West Virginia American and Eastman that the companies had not been given adequate details to determine exactly what damages were suffered by members of the class or how much those damages might be worth.

Copenhaver has been trying to encourage mediation that might produce a settlement, but Eastman and West Virginia American said they haven't been given the data they or their insurance companies would need to make settlement talks productive.

"We're still at the point where we don't have that data and information, said Bob Scott, a lawyer for Eastman. "Half a load is way overstating it. We don't even have a slice. We have a crumb.

Calwell, though, said settlement talks - and any eventual trial - should not be viewed only as focused on costs of replacement water, or even about what lawyers for residents have called a "limited number of personal injury claims or about a larger number who sought medical treatment after exposure to contaminated water.

The "massive core of the case, Calwell said, is finding a way to compensate "a couple hundred thousand people who had their lives disrupted.

"Do you make 100,000 people come forward with receipts from Kroger for the bottled water? …

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