COURTLAND, Ala. (WHNT) — News 19 reported in August on the settlement of a long-running lawsuit in Lawrence County over PFAS-contaminated drinking water and resident concerns about not receiving settlement payments.
Since we reported that story News 19 has heard from a number of Lawrence County residents who say they still haven’t been paid and are prepared to complain to the Alabama Bar Association.
We also spoke to Eric Tyrone Billings, whose name is listed as the first one in the lawsuit.
He told News 19 he hasn’t ever had contact with the attorneys who filed the lawsuit that bears his name.
The lawsuit filed by Anniston-based Stewart and Stewart was settled last year. 3M, which made PFAS chemicals in Decatur for decades, announced it had settled with about 4,900 plaintiffs, but no settlement terms were disclosed.
We reached out to the law firm, via email and a phone call Tuesday, but they did not respond. The firm also did not respond to multiple requests for comment we made prior to our August story.
News 19 asked Billings when he first discussed the lawsuit with the Stewart and Stewart law firm.
“I’ve never spoken with them. never had word, or foreknowledge, or any of this,” Billings said. ”Never had any contact with them. I’ve never given them anything. Never had a conversation pertaining to this lawsuit with those lawyers.”
Billings’ name is on the case, so it turns out people think he knows where the money went. As he explained to News 19’s Brian Lawson.
“If I saw your name on it I would say, ‘Hey Brian, what’s good with it? Can you, you know, do something? Or know something, tell me something.’ So, I don’t know what to say to them.”
Lawrence County resident Sharon Murray said she has had enough of trying to get answers on the lawsuit settlement for herself, family members and neighbors. She has worked to gather complaint forms to send to the Alabama Bar Association.
“These are all complaint forms against Stewart and Stewart for not paying people their money that they were entitled to,” she said. “He had a list of names, they came to this church, which I also belong to myself, and I was there when they came in the church and had people to sign up.”
Murray said she has collected more than 85 complaints to send to the bar association.
The forms “are saying they are going to the Alabama Bar against Stewart and Stewart for non-payment of the money that they were promised,” Murray said. “Which was $3,500. If you owned the land you were supposed to get $1,000.”
PFAS chemicals have been linked to a number of health problems, including some cancers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced plans to require lower levels of PFAS in drinking water and first-time regulations for PFAS.
The lawyers came to Lawrence County in 2016 after high levels of PFAS chemicals – made by 3m in Decatur for decades — were discovered in the Lawrence County drinking water, provided to the area by the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority. The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority sued 3M and received a settlement for $35 million in 2019. The authority built a new water filtration plant using that money.
Residents told News 19 that thousands signed up to sue 3M and WMEL.
“Now you got people that are truly hurt and felt like they were lied to, or used and they want to know what’s going to happen,” Murray said. “They have had family members to pass on, husbands, children. We’ve lost 3 children with cancer. Now that’s not say cancer can’t come in children, but it’s something going on.”
Billings says he wants a true accounting.
“There are a lot of things that need to be addressed,” he said. “And you think that giving people a one-time check for a few hundred dollars eliminates these things that have been onset in past generations? Nah.
“But in some type of way, somebody’s thought was, in some type of way, ‘These people have to be sanctioned, this is some form of compensation. That’s more than much, for many, and not enough for most.”
Murray has lost loved ones, for her the path forward is clear.
“I’m not in this for myself, I’m doing this for the people around here that yes, needs that money,” she said. “As I said I’m a retiree from General Motors. You know, I’m not trying to gain anything or get anything, I’m trying to help the people.”
3M announced in June it would pay up to $12.5 billion to settle PFAS lawsuits from across the U.S.