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Lawyers Aim Bigger Than Freedom Industries in West Virginia Chemical Spill, by Paul M. Barrett, Bloomberg Businessweek


In a neo-Tuscan villa in an office park near the Charleston, W. Va., airport, seven West Virginia plaintiffs’ lawyers gathered on Jan. 13 for a council of war. Chemical contamination that four days earlier had cut off tap water to 300,000 West Virginians was making its way west into Ohio. Local authorities were saying that Freedom Industries, the source of the 7,500 gallons of rogue coal-processing chemical, may not have acted swiftly to warn about the seepage. And the federal prosecutor in town sounded dead serious about a criminal investigation.

No surprise, then, that the atmosphere in the elegant conference room of Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler, while businesslike, had an undertone of bellicose joy. ‘We’re looking at punitive damages, ‘piercing the corporate veil’ at Freedom Industries, and holding the water company and the chemical manufacturer liable, too,’ said James Peterson, the strategy session’s host. Dressed in a black sweatsuit and tan baseball cap, he acknowledged that he hadn’t showered in five days. Then he smiled and said: ‘Neither have a lot of other people around here, and they’re pissed.’