THE BUFFALO CREEK DISASTER: The Story of the Survivors' Unprecedented Lawsuit by Gerald M. Stem

THE BUFFALO CREEK DISASTER: The Story of the Survivors' Unprecedented Lawsuit

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A blow-by-blow account of a landmark lawsuit by the chief attorney for the survivors of the '72 Buffalo Creek Disaster. The West Virginia mining catastrophe killed 125 people, mostly women and children: a massive dam used to filter waste water collapsed, unleashing a tidal wave of fetid, black filth that destroyed a seventeen-mile valley. Stern's lucidity and anger as he details the complex three-year legal strategies and maneuvers make for exceptional legal drama. He was determined to get not only compensatory but punitive damages--which required proving that the company was guilty of ""reckless and wanton"" acts, not just negligence. More critical still was the charge of ""psychic impairment"" to survivors. The unprecedented contention was that the people of Buffalo Creek had suffered a ""collective trauma"" which ""damages the bonds linking people to each other and impairs the prevailing sense of communality."" For this, Stem's prestigious Washington, D.C.,firm relied on Robert Lifton's work on survivors and hired--at a cost of $100,000--the Univ. of Cincinnati's Department of Psychiatry to interview some 600 plaintiffs. Pittston, parent company of Buffalo Creek Mining, offered $3 million; Stem demanded $32.5 million. Eventually the hard bargaining got a hefty $13.5 million settlement for what Pittston had originally called an ""Act of God."" It's one of those unusual, gratifying cases where righteous wrath and bulldog perseverance combined to get some justice for the powerless. Stem tells it with deserved pride.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1976
Publisher: Random House