Residents near Chemtool can file claims for a portion of the $94.5 million settlement

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Smoke from the Chemtool explosion could be seen for miles on June 14, 2021.

Chemtool has posted a claim form online which will allow residents to receive a portion of a $94.5 million settlement over property damage caused by the devastating explosion and fire on June 14, 2021, at Lubrizol's Chemtool facility in Rockton, Illinois. The claim form went online on June 14, 2024, three years after the explosion. The case is called 'Grasley v. Chemtool.' Another lawsuit, filed by Sara Henderson, Nick Migliore, and Stephanie Mackey, is referred to as 'Mackey.' Both would be settled at the same time.

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Residents near the Chemtool site are receiving a claim number by email or mail, with a PIN to fill out the Chemtool claim form. The deadline for filing the claim is September 12, 2024.  Residents who don't file a claim by the deadline will not receive any money, but they are still bound by the settlement agreement [PDF] - they can't sue for any more damages. Residents can object to the proposed settlement in writing by August 13, 2024. (They can still file a claim form).

Residents can email questions to Chemtoolclassaction@noticeadministrator.com or call 833-457-5350. They can download a claim form [PDF] from the website. Many residents said they hadn't received a claim number or PIN yet, but others received them on Monday, June 17, 2024.

Residents qualify for a portion of the settlement if they were a Illinois citizen and lived or owned property in Illinois within three miles of the Chemtool Manufacturing Plant at 1165 Prairie Hill Road at the time of the explosion. The class action website includes a map of the area [PDF] showing the three-mile radius. 

Though the three-mile radius (and the smoke and debris) reached into Wisconsin,  residents of Wisconsin are not eligible for this particular settlement. Former Chemtool employees are not eligible either. Neither are the lawyers, though attorney fees for the plaintiffs could total $33 million. 

The Beloit Daily News says, "If every eligible resident files a claim, the payments to each household will be between $5,500 and $8,300." 

Residents who wanted to file their own lawsuit could have done so if they opted out of the Class by the May 15, 2023 deadline. The notice of the agreement [PDF] lists a hundred names on the opt out list, including Electrol Specialties Company and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, 

Among the 98 individuals on the opt out list is Tony Chiodini, who was told by his insurance company that his policy didn't cover 'pollution,' according to a WREX story. The Beloit Daily News says Chiodini and his wife filed their own lawsuit against Chemtool in 2023.

The Notice of Agreement says, "In order to obtain a monetary award, Class Members will be required to release Chemtool, Lubrizol, and related entities and persons." This includes any property damage that residents don't know about yet.

But the Notice of Class Pendency [PDF] says, "It is important to remember that this case only seeks to determine claims for property damages and injunctive relief. Personal injury claims (i.e., bodily injury, sickness, or disease related to exposure to the alleged contamination) are not being determined in this case and any such claims will not impact your status as a Class Member and your legal rights and options outlined below."

However, the plaintiff's attorneys say "they have no knowledge that any Class Member has alleged or plans to allege that the Incident caused bodily injury, including any short-term or longterm health effects, and have no knowledge that any Class Member has suffered any bodily injury arising out of the Incident including short-term or long-term health effects caused by the Incident." And they say they aren't planning to bring any more claims.

According to the website, the $94.5 million fund "will be used to make monetary awards to Class Members and to pay expenses of a Settlement Administrator, incentive awards to Class Representatives, attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses to counsel for the Class, and certain identified claims related to the fire." 

Attorney are asking for $18,000 for each of the seven lead plaintiffs. Other members of the class action would receive less.

And the attorneys expect to get paid for their time and expenses. The notice of the proposed settlement says, "Class Counsel is limiting its request to no more than 35% of the Settlement Fund." That would be about $33 million of the $94.5 million. The fund would also pay a Settlement Administrator and cover "resolution of certain identified claims."

After that is paid, compensation for damages depend on whether the resident was an owner or tenant, how many people lived there, how far their property was from the plant, and "whether the property was residential or non-residential." The claim form asks, "Did the insurance company pay any money to the Claimant as a result of the claim?"

Half of the "Initial Distribution Amount" goes to property owners to cover claims for "physical damage to, and/or cleanup of, real or personal property and diminution of real property value" by the conflagration. The other half goes to pay for 'evacuation, business interruption, and loss of use of real or personal property." 

The lead plaintiffs Charles Grasley, Diane Connelly, Paige Hoops, and Eric Osberg say that the fire caused a "plume of smoke, dust, and debris." They want compensation for "property cleanup costs, diminution of property value, loss of the reasonable use and enjoyment of property, and other property related damages." The plaintiffs are also seeking punitive damages. 

Chemtool drily states "the plaintiffs lack alleged damages." Since the fire, residents tell disturbing anecdotes about sick relatives, pets, and gardens, but in June 2021 the U.S. EPA said, "Despite the odor, the current air quality is not a health concern." The Illinois EPA says water tests "are in compliance with applicable drinking water and groundwater standards."

The plaintiffs do agree with Chemtool that Holian Insulation Company caused the fire, though like Chemtool, Holian "denies all allegations of wrongdoing." When OSHA fined Holian for safety violations in January 2022, they said, "While operating the scissor lift, it struck a pressure tap on a hot oil return pipe for cooking kettle R604, resulting in an oil leak and subsequent fire." 

For its part, Holian says Chemtool didn't do enough to protect the plant from fires. An annual fire inspection report obtained by WREX said that the facility was not "completely sprinklered" and "properly protected" on November 20, 2020. A Lubrizol spokesperson said, "We did not have sprinklers in the immediate area we believe the fire started based on our to-date investigation, though we did have sprinklers in other areas of the site." But they insist they were "in compliance with applicable regulations, and regular visits were made by the proper authorities."

Attorneys for the residents admit that Chemtool "raised factual and legal defenses in the Class Litigation that present a significant risk that Class Representatives may not prevail and/or that no class will be certified for trial." For example, on June 23, 2023, Judge Balogh "declined to grant a motion for Class Certification Regarding Damages filed by the Class."

Both sides decided to settle the case now, once and for all, without asking Judge Stephen E. Balogh to rule that either side is right. Attorneys for the residents believe the agreement is "fair, reasonable, adequate, and based on good-faith negotiations, and in the best interests of" residents. Chemtool agrees the settlement is "desirable to avoid the time, risk, and expense of defending protracted litigation." 

Judge Balogh is expected to give final approval for the settlement, after reviewing any objections, on Friday, September 27, 2024 at 1:30 m. in Courtroom 451 of the Winnebago County Courthouse, 400 West State Street in Rockford, Illinois.

Who gets what is complicated , but the main points can be found on page 28-30 of the 80 page settlement agreement [PDF]. 

Up to 35% of the $94.5 million “Settlement Amount” would be paid to attorneys. 

Also deducted: a $150,000 Released-Claim Fund, which of course would pay for "Released Claims brought by Class Members against any Released Party." Whatever that means, the fund would remain in place until June 30, 2026.

A $8.9 million Subrogation Fund would pay for "Subrogation Claims" from insurance companies and others who want reimbursement for money they paid to their customers. This fund would remain in place until June 30, 2026 or until it's exhausted. Currently 89 names appear on the Subrogation Claim list, including Aspland Court Condominiums, Catherine Bellich, Brian Elmer Company, Old Stone Church, Pipitone Properties, and Village Woods Estates Condominium Association.

One of the purposes of a $950,000 Supplemental Fund is to pay claims to a list of people who weren't "owners or tenants of real property" at the time of the fire, but "who were owners of personal property" near the Chemtool plant. The Supplemental Fund would be active until June 30, 2026 or until those claims are all settled.

If attorneys discover more claims later, both the Supplemental Fund and the Subrogation Fund could be increased by 20%, which could reduce the Initial Distribution Amount by up to $1.97 million, to $92.53 million. But no single payment will exceed $25,000 without written authorization from Chemtool and its attorneys.

Once payments are made to attorneys, lead plaintiffs, the administrator, and the Released-Claim Fund, the Subrogation Fund, and the Supplemental Fund, half of the remaining money would go to residents according to a formula:

  • Each Class Member who, on June 14, 2021, resided more than 1 and up to 3 miles from the Chemtool Chemical Plant, will receive 1 share plus an additional 0.2 share for each additional natural person residing in the residence on June 14, 2021.
  • Each Class Member who, on June 14, 2021, resided between 0 and 1 mile from the Chemtool Chemical Plant, will receive 2 shares plus an additional 0.2 share for each additional natural person residing in the residence on June 14, 2021.
  • Each Class Member who, on June 14, 2021, owned a non-residential property more than 1 and up to 3 miles from the Chemtool Chemical Plant, will receive 1 share.
  • Each Class Member who, on June 14, 2021, owned a non-residential property between 0 and 1 mile from the Chemtool Chemical Plant, will receive 2 shares.
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