MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Massey Energy Co. has offered $35 million to settle a 7-year-old lawsuit with hundreds of Southern West Virginia residents who say the mining company poisoned their drinking supplies with wastewater called coal slurry.
The settlement proposed last month is confidential, but The Associated Press obtained a copy of a letter sent to the more than 500 plaintiffs whose cases were to be tried starting in August.
It says the $35 million is in addition to the $5 million that Massey and its subsidiary, Rawl Sales & Processing, had previously agreed to put into a medical monitoring fund.
Massey was bought earlier this year Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources, which did not immediately comment Monday.
It's unclear exactly how much money each plaintiff will receive because the letter doesn't say how much their lawyers are seeking for fees and expenses. The attorneys refused to comment, citing a gag order imposed on the settlement.
If they request and are granted the customary 33 percent, that could lower the payoffs to about $24 million.
That would average out to about $50,000 apiece, but the specific amounts will vary with each plaintiff. Some families experienced cancer or other serious illnesses, while others had deaths they blame on contaminated water. Others have yet to manifest any illness but believe they're at higher risk of becoming sick.
The letter says "an independent, neutral person" will help decide how the funds are allocated -- a process "used in other mass tort situations across the country."
A hearing on the settlement and its distribution, including legal fees, is set for Sept. 29 at the Kanawha County Courthouse in Charleston.
The letter, dated Aug. 5, tells recipients the terms are not to be discussed with anyone other than fellow plaintiffs.
"Never forget that we stood and fought where others feared to tread, and you, the people of Rawl, Lick Creek, Merrimac and Sprigg, focused the world's attention on the true human cost of outlaw mining practices," says the letter, signed by attorney Kevin Thompson.