End of Ferriday water suit in sight

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 23, 2006

FERRIDAY &8212; The class-action lawsuit stemming from the 1999 water crisis could be in the process of wrapping up, attorneys involved with the case said.

Ferriday Town Attorney Derrick Carson said he, Mayor Gene Allen and representatives of the multi-party lawsuit went through two days of mediation last week in New Orleans.

And while no deal was worked out, Carson said enough progress was made to make him think the end of the tunnel could be in sight.

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&8220;We&8217;re optimistic we&8217;ll be able to work it out without going to trial,&8221; he said.

Mediation is a negotiation process by which the parties work with a trained legal professional, often a mediation lawyer, to work out a resolution and avoid the vagaries of a trial.

The process is non-binding.

The sides have a court date in October, if a settlement is not worked out by then, the case will go to trial.

The class-action lawsuit involves between 3,700 and 4,200 customers of the town&8217;s water service at the time of the plant&8217;s breakdown and subsequent 124-day boil order.

They are suing the town, the plant&8217;s engineers, Owen and White Inc, as well as the company that built it, US Filter.

Under Louisiana law, the size of any award is determined by the court, plaintiffs may not request a damage amount.

Attorney Chuck Norris, the plaintiffs&8217; liaison, commented briefly about the mediation proceedings last week.

&8220;We&8217;re hopeful,&8221; he said.

The town has also filed claim against the engineering firm and US Filter.

Risk Management Inc provides Ferriday with indemnity coverage. Under the system, municipalities throughout the state pool money to protect themselves from liability.

Risk Management attorney Earl Cronin said state law caps the general damages a municipality can be held liable for at $500,000 but that there is no can on special damage awards.

Cronin said he couldn&8217;t talk about pending litigation but did indicate the process is continuing.

&8220;It has not been resolved, but the parties have been talking,&8221; he said. &8220;That&8217;s always a good sign.&8221;

John Wolff, the attorney representing Owen and White Inc. agreed.

&8220;The mediation is still open, the parties are still talking and we&8217;re not able to comment about any aspect of what&8217;s going on,&8221; he said.