Holley, N.Y. - In January 2002 a massive chemical spill at the Diaz Chemical Corporation in Holley, Orleans County caused damage that would last for years. Homes were evacuated, some residents moved away permanently. Long-term health effects are being documented by many in the area of the spill that covered properties throughout the village with chemical residue.
Now, more than a decade later, a legal battle waged by roughly 125 plaintiffs affected by that spill appears to be near an end. A settlement in principle has been agreed to and 13WHAM News has learned that it would mean all those plaintiffs split what remains of a $255,000 settlement after legal fees have been collected. Typically legal fees are about one-third of the settlement meaning each plaintiff, on average, would collect about $1,300.
After years of health problems, stress, and legal battles Ellen Germeo is one of those plaintiffs who can’t help but express disappointment at the outcome.
"For 126 people for what they've suffered," Germeo said of the settlement. "And a lot of them were down here behind me, Anita Truopo, and Dan and all of them, they've suffered real bad…most of them are sick, most of them have had cancer."
Following the 2002, spill the Diaz Chemical Corp. went bankrupt. An Arkansas-based sister company followed Diaz into bankruptcy making it quite challenging for lawyers to pursue damages. The original lawsuit filed asked for tens of millions of dollars.
"Some of the others who were sick and have had all these medical (problems) and it's all documented, they might get a couple thousand dollars and it's not worth it," Germeo said while sitting in her Van Buren Street home that she never moved out of following the spill.
Germeo and her sister Geraldine Baron both live together and were named as plaintiffs on this lawsuit.
Through years of legal actions lawyers for the plaintiffs (Richard Lippes of Buffalo and Alan Knauf of Rochester) managed to find ways to pursue damages through the company’s former owners Clifton and Theodore Jenney. Insurance polices each has are expected to be the source of funds for this settlement although lawyers for both sides could not discuss specifics.
Michael Wolford, Clifton Jenney’s lawyer, said his client is pleased to have this matter reach a possible conclusion. Wolford said his client was forced out of business, lost his assets, and has also suffered a great deal.
Lawyer Alan Knauf for the plaintiffs told 13WHAM News that the settlement avoids the possibility of many more years of litigation. Throughout the last decade Knauf said he and his legal team have also managed to recoup many thousands more for the victims through their various homeowner’s policies and other means.
The plaintiffs are being sent correspondence from their lawyers and must chose whether or not to accept this settlement offer. If they do the court would determine the distribution among plaintiffs.