Deadline set for claims in Freedom bankruptcy case

CHARLESTON (AP) — A federal bankruptcy judge has set an Aug. 1 deadline for financial claims by West Virginia residents and businesses affected by a January chemical spill in Charleston that contaminated the local water supply.

Proof of claims forms can be obtained and filed on the U.S. Bankruptcy Court’s website. The Charleston Gazette reports business losses must be accompanied by documentation, while residents don’t need such documentation for personal damage.

A spill of the coal-cleaning agent crude MCHM at Freedom Industries’ plant along the Elk River contaminated 300,000 people’s tap water in nine counties. Residents were ordered not to use tap water for up to 10 days except for flushing toilets and putting out fires.

Dozens of individuals and businesses sued Freedom after the spill, many saying they lost profits and wages while their workplaces remained shuttered for days without clean water. Those legal cases were frozen when Freedom filed for bankruptcy protection eight days after the spill.

The Freedom case’s claims agent, James W. Layne Jr., said people should not rely on those previously filed civil lawsuits. They should instead file bankruptcy claims.

Stuart Calwell, a Charleston lawyer who sued over the spill, said the civil lawsuits will only be dealt with by the bankruptcy courts now.

“Unless you appear on the claims list, you will be invisible to the bankruptcy court,” Calwell said.

Residents and businesses do not need lawyers to file proofs of claim. Claims also are not required to spell out a specific dollar amount.

Legal observers do not believe there will much money left in Freedom for claims after the bankruptcy proceedings.

However, it is unclear how much money Freedom currently has. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald Pearson in Charleston has agreed to shield Freedom’s regularly filed budgets from the public.

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