The water contamination has devastated thousands of people and businesses in the Charleston area, and now they're trying to strike back in court. At least three class action lawsuits have been filed against Freedom Industries for their role in the chemical spill that has halted water service for about 300,000 people.
Class action lawsuits happen when the concerns of many are placed into one case to help ease the case load in the judicial system and cut down on court costs for the parties involved.
According to Wheeling Attorney Clayton Fitzsimmons, class action law suits offer a chance for the voice of the little guy to be heard.
"Class actions provide consumers, individuals, small businesses who have average or limited means to take on these corporate behemoths with just unlimited resources," said Fitzsimmons. "They essentially level the playing field between David and Goliath and they give David a chance."
In order for a class action lawsuit to be successful, it must be proven that there was a duty owed to the individuals and that there was a breach of that duty. Also as a result of that breach, there must be damage felt by the individuals. The damages could be physical like from the exposure to the chemical or financial damages like the small businesses in Charleston are claiming.
"This is an essential time for businesses in the Charleston are because the legislature is in session," said Fitzsimmons. "A lot of times these companies and small businesses rely upon the profits that they derive during this period of time. And in this case they were disrupted and lost out on those profits. So the lawsuit is to recover damages on those aspects."
Fitzsimmons also says the damages might not be felt by an individual or a business but it could impact the environment as well.
"We also have a significant impact to our water source. You know water is essential to life," said Fitzsimmons. "We have the wildlife down there, the fishery, and all that aspect of it is still to be played out and we don't know the full extent of what that damage is going to entail."
Fitzsimmons says these class action lawsuits could be consolidated together and there's a good chance the cases could be heard by the Mass Litigation Panel in West Virginia. The panel allows several judges specialized in complex litigation to hear the case and it includes two Ohio Valley judges, Judge Hummel and Judge Mazzone.