CHARLESTON, W.Va., Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Two companies hit with a class-action lawsuit over a chemical spill that contaminated water in nine West Virginia counties in 2014 have settled for up to $151 million, most of which will go to residents affected by the accident.
The West Virginia American Water Company and Eastman Chemical agreed to the settlements late Monday afternoon, narrowly avoiding a trial that had been delayed several times by a federal judge in the hope a settlement would be reached.
In January 2014, about 10,000 gallons of the chemical Crude MCHM leaked from a storage tank into the Elk River, eventually making it into the Charleston water system. Residents and businesses could not use tap water for as long as nine days while the water system cleaned.
Attorneys in the lawsuit claimed the water company did not properly prepare for potential spills and did not respond properly and that Eastman, which manufactures the chemical, did not warn a storage company about the dangers inherent to it.
West Virginia American Water Company is set to pay $126 million and Eastman will pay $25 million, which is expected to be distributed among as many as 224,000 individual residents and 7,900 businesses that were affected by the spill. In statements, neither company admitted fault, but expressed satisfaction a resolution had been reached.
"We stand by our allegations and they stand by their defenses," said Kevin Thompson, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "Unfortunately we're not going to have a chance to try it out in court. I think we would have prevailed–clearly or I wouldn't have brought the suit."
Thompson said that while a trial would have proven who was at fault for the spill, the residents and businesses who suffered will be able to benefit faster from the settlements, which will require proof of water service and presence in the state when the spill occurred.