By Sarah Mansheim
Two separate lawsuits have been filed in the Circuit Court of Greenbrier County against the company whose truck dumped nearly 4,000 gallons of diesel into an Anthony Creek tributary.
The first is a class action complaint filed by Webb Law Centre on behalf of The Bakery, The Irish Pub and William-Walton Inc, doing business as Food and Friends, against Woodford Transport, LLC, whose driver wrecked the diesel tanker on Rt. 92. According to Webb Law Centre attorney Rusty Webb, those businesses are not the only ones who stand to gain from this suit. In fact, says Webb, should the court certify the class and a judgment is achieved, any business that was affected by the spill, and the subsequent health department mandate that restaurants close their doors until water was restored, will qualify to apply for damages.
Webb calls the businesses named in the suit “the courageous few stepping up for everybody,” acknowledging that some of those business owners are now taking flack for filing the suit. “Lewisburg is a tolerant town,” says Webb, “so I kind of expected some discussion about the litigation.” But, he insists, unless a person has walked in the shoes of a business owner or a person who has lost wages due to the forced shutdown, perhaps they should cut those litigants some slack.
In fact, Webb says he expects those business owners will be celebrated if money is returned to all affected businesses in Lewisburg, Ronceverte and other outlying areas affected by the spill, because owners of The Bakery, the Irish Pub and Food and Friends are not the only ones who will see relief if the suit is successful – anyone who has a claim to the lost business or wages would qualify to apply for damages. That means people like waitresses and waiters, cooks and other restaurant employees who were forced to take a day off could recoup their wages.
Another similar lawsuit has been filed by the law offices of E. Lavoyd Morgan Jr. and Associates and Robert J. Frank and Associates who are representing plaintiffs Kristie L. Bennett, Tony Hill, along with his businesses Show Your Colors and Hill Properties LLC; and TWB Odyssey LLC, doing business as The Wild Bean and Roger Dolan Jr. individually.
Bennett, a childcare worker, is seeking recompense for forced time off when the daycare facility where she works was closed due to the water crisis. Hill’s Show Your Colors was also forced to shut down during the outage, and the Wild Bean’s plight followed the restaurateurs in the Webb lawsuit: they were shut down by the health department.
Morgan’s office confirms what Webb said regarding the plaintiffs: “Such suits must be brought by ‘representative plaintiffs’ on behalf of the class. Without individuals brave enough to serve as class representative, persons injured by such events would have few mechanisms by which to recover from their losses. The suit seeks to have a class certified so that all similarly affected people in Lewisburg may be joined,” said Denise Pettijohn, an associate in Morgan’s office.
Pettijohn addressed the backlash by saying, “These attacks have called class representatives greedy, self serving or out to collect a payday. Nothing could be farther from the truth. These individuals and businesses are trying to assist our community. Many in the retail and hospitality industries could not work for several days as a direct result of the diesel spill. Many of these people already live paycheck to paycheck, and that loss of income was devastating.
“The individuals and businesses that are named in this lawsuit are local members of the community who have volunteered to come forward, so that everyone damaged by this spill can be made whole. They understand that for many people, those few days out of work were actually devastating, further straining already limited budgets. They should be cheered for fighting for others, not vilified,” said Pettijohn.
“Remember,” she said, regarding the portion of the lawsuit that names the tanker driver, Kenneth Pritt, individually, “the Freedom Industries spill was initially thought to be the result of an ‘accidental’ equipment malfunction until it was discovered that the company was grossly negligent in maintaining that equipment.” Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill told the Mountain Messenger last week that the investigation into the accident is ongoing. The suit sites negligence on Pritt’s behalf.
Both law offices that have filed the complaints in Greenbrier County Circuit Court are urging anyone who was financially affected by the spill to contact their offices in order to add their name to the class. By getting a full view of the scope of the people and businesses affected, they said, they will be better able to get a better view of the damages.
The Mountain Messenger left phone messages with Woodford Transportation to allow them an opportunity to comment on the spill, cleanup and lawsuits, but our calls were not returned.