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Logan County, West Virginia (see map) is home to several coal mining companies. In 1970, Pittston Coal was responsible for dumping coal-waste into Buffalo Creek. The coal-waste eventually complied and dammed the river. In 1972, the dam broke giving way to a wall of water and debris that rushed onto the towns that were downstream. The disaster affected sixteen towns leaving one hundred and twenty five people dead and 4,000 homeless. Of the 5,000 residents that were living on Buffalo Creek, 30% were living under the poverty line. The state of West Virginia and the Buffalo Creek Citizens Commission sued Pittston Coal in three major law suits and were awarded $19.3 million. (For more information about the Buffalo Creek flood, go to the What section)

After the dam failure, a number of residents were outraged at Pittston. Some of the residents formed a group called the Buffalo Creek Citizens Commission. They claimed that Pittston's actions while constructing the coal-waste dam and in the days leading up to the disaster were "reckless." The Commission approached Arnold and Porter law firm in the hopes that the law firm would represent the affected citizens. Arnold and Porter accepted the case as part of a pro bono program and placed partner Gerald Stern in charge of the case. Pittston Coal Company denied any wrong doing and fought the law suits. (For more information about the major actors in this case, go to the Who section)

The dam failure occurred on Buffalo Creek which is located in Logan County, West Virginia. The class-action law suits against Pittston were brought to federal court and were settled after many months of negotiation. The negotiations took place mostly in Manhattan and Washington, DC. (For more information about the arenas in this case, go to the Where section)

From the communities' standpoint, the settlements were a bittersweet victory. The amount of money received by the victims was more than most had ever seen in their lives. The decision to go after Pittston in federal courts instead of suing in state courts was the right decision considering the widespread corruption in the state judicial system. However, the victims did not win a victory that led to substantial changes in safety of coal-waste dams. The Citizens Commission heavy relied on media attention especially from the Charleston Gazette. After the dam failure, a spokesman from Pittston Coal Company was quoted saying the disaster was "an act of God," and therefore Pittston should not be held responsible. Pittston was able to effectively use its financial wealth and effectively controlled the situation. (For more information about the analysis of the case, go to the How section)

To view the sources used in this project, go to References)

To learn how this project relates to other Colby courses, go to Related Courses