People with claims in the $300 million PCBs pollution settlement can comment at a federal court hearing in Anniston on the method of payment. A three-day hearing begins May 25, replacing workshops originally scheduled to explain and gather comment on the “payment matrix.” Settlement money yet to be awarded totals $142.5 million. The proposed matrix would allocate 7 percent of that – or $10 million – for property damages. The remaining $132.5 million would go for personal injury payments.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit claimed their property was damaged and their health endangered by decades of chemical PCBs production at a plant operated by Monsanto, a corporate predecessor of Solutia. At the 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. hearings before the U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon of Birmingham, individual claimants will have up to 10 minutes to comment. The hearing May 25 is for last names beginning with A through G; May 26 is H through P; and May 27 is Q through Z. Those plaintiffs unable to attend their assigned hearing may attend another.
After the hearings, Claims Administrator Ed Gentle will submit a report to Clemon, and the judge will decide the design of the payment matrix. Beverly Carmichael, who heads the community advisory board, said Clemon has been listening and “making things happen.” The board met privately with the judge last week. On Wednesday, the board met with attorneys, including Jere Beasley and David Shelby. Johnnie Cochran did not attend, but J. Keith Givens from his firm was there.
Carmichael said the board asked about getting some attorneys’ fees back. He said the lawyers responded that the 40 percent they collected was fair, but they said they would meet to discuss what they could do to help the community. Gentle said he and the committee are waiting to see if there will be a proposal from the lawyers. “I did make it known that the community was not pleased with the settlement and the way it was handled,” Carmichael said.
Gentle proposes that 60 percent of the money for personal injury claims be paid based on the PCBs in blood; 25 percent based on results of a registered nurse interview about health problems; and 15 percent based on time living or working in the area. However, adult claimants would not receive any credit for living or working near the Monsanto plant unless they were there at least 10 years. If a claimant did not live in the area for 10 years and does not have PCBs above background levels, he or she would get nothing based on the findings of the registered nurse interview. If he or she had blood PCBs above background levels, nurse interview credits would be enhanced 50 percent.
According to the results from a sample of 4,049 claimants, if this plan were applied about 82 percent of claimants would receive less than $10,000, with 21 percent of those receiving nothing. Most of the other 17.7 percent would receive between $10,000 and $20,000. About four claimants, or .1 percent, would qualify for payments of between 100,000 and $150,000. About 4 percent would receive between $20,000 and $100,000. Those amounts, however, only represent payment of 80 percent of the personal injury fund.