Attorneys pursuing a possible class action lawsuit against the company responsible for a massive oil spill on the Kalamazoo River held a public forum last night. They heard from many people upset with Enbridge Energy's response to the oil spill so far.
Court Battle Could Take Too Long
Andrew Griffith says five years ago his house on the Kalamazoo River in Emmet Township was appraised at $150,000 dollars. But now he says his children and his girlfriend have evacuated the house.
"My kids have been to the doctor, they've all got respiratory problems," he says. "I've got respiratory problems, headaches. I'm still in the home because I work in Battle Creek. I'm taking 800 milligram Motrins to go to work. I've got to talk to customers."
Griffith says he knows keeping everyone out of the house won't be an option when school starts. The motorcycle salesman says he's never been part of a lawsuit before, and isn't sure he wants to join a possible class action lawsuit against Enbridge Energy Partners.
Griffith says he's concerned that a lawsuit could be in court for years, and he doesn't want to wait that long.
Attorneys speaking at the forum in Springfield last night say how long it's tied up in the courts is up to the company. Laura Sheets, with the firm Macuga, Liddle and Dubin, says Enbridge should do what they promised when the pipeline ruptured near Marshall on July 26th.
"What they need to be doing is compensating people for damage that's happened, whether it's damage to property, damage to health, damage to again their vegetation, to wildlife, the ability to use or enjoy their property. Those are all real injuries that deserve to be compensated," Sheets says.
Signing Away Rights?
Enbridge has not commented on the class action lawsuit, but company officials have said that people don't have to sue to be compensated. Enbridge officials have said repeatedly that they will pay all legitimate claims for damages.
But attorneys bringing the class action lawsuit say the company is also trying to get people to sign away their right to sue in the future for damages. They point to a form that states that in exchange for payment, Enbridge Energy is released from all liability.
The amount of payment is left blank. Steven Feltner says he may have been offered the chance to sign away his right to sue. Feltner lives near the river in Emmet Township, and says he had been reimbursed for food and a hotel room. But Feltner says on Friday he was told that he is no longer eligible for reimbursement.
"But what happened was she told me that since I wasn't eligible no more that she would do this favor for me of signing this release form of $210. She said 'I'm not allowed to do this but in your case, for your food that you need to be reimbursed for,' basically is the way I understood it, 'You can have this $210 if you sign a release form.'"
Feltner says he can't say for sure that it's the same release form that lawyers brought to last night's meeting.
"I didn't see it, because I stood up and I let her have it right then and there, that I wasn't signing no release form," he says.
Attorneys at last night's forum say they still have to get a court to grant class action status. That motion probably won't be heard for several months.