A fire, reported to be the worst in Birmingham history, began about noon on October 2, 1997, and destroyed the IDS Warehouse (“IDSW”). At the time of the fire, the Warehouse held approximately 5,000 gallons of the pesticide Dursban, which is highly toxic to fish in extremely small quantities. As a result of fire-fighting efforts, Dursban flowed into Village Creek approximately 1 1/4 mile from the Warehouse site, and eventually reached Bayview Lake, then it flowed 31.6 miles to the Locust Fort of the Black Warrior River. This caused the second largest fish kill ever recorded in the State according to the Alabama Department of Conservation.
Beginning on the day of the fire, we assisted IDSW, the owner of the warehouse, in emergency response coordination, including meetings with the Fire Department, the Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency, and the State of Alabama. We hired an environmental consultant to assist the County and State with emergency response efforts. We counseled the client regarding public relations issues, including drafting and providing statements to the press on behalf of the client. We also immediately began interviewing employees and witnesses in anticipation of claims.
Less than three weeks after the fire, the first of three class action lawsuits was filed against IDSW in Alabama State Court, seeking an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages, on a variety of claims, including negligence, wantonness, nuisance, and trespass. A fourth lawsuit was filed on April 7, 1998, by the Attorney General of the State of Alabama, seeking compensatory and punitive damages as well, on claims of water pollution, trespass, trespass to chattel, public nuisance, and negligent entrustment.
Two of the class actions were consolidated into a single class action, and the third class action was dismissed. The parties eventually settled the consolidated class action on May 20, 1999. IDSW and the State also settled and that case was dismissed with prejudice on September 30, 1999.
In addition, IDSW was involved in two coverage disputes, and several lawsuits by customers regarding the destruction of their product by the fire, totaling 26 lawsuits, which were all resolved, including a substantial payment to IDSW for insurance coverage.