am 18. Juni 1999
Wow! What a book. Can you imagine having a wall of water suddenly appear on a Saturday morning and totally engulf your house and drown members of your family? Can you imagine escaping to the roof of your house as it was carried along by flood waters, crashing into bridges and other houses? Can you imagine having a young child ripped from your arms by rampaging flood water? These horrors actually occurred in 1972 in a small valley in West Virginia. Eventually 125 people lost their lives in what is still the greatest disaster of its kind in the U.S.
Stern tells the story of the Buffalo Creek disaster. He describes how an inept corporation used coal slag to construct illegal dams across Buffalo Creek, a small stream in West Virginia. As would be expected, water accumulated as lakes behind the dams. During a heavy rainfall, the largest of the dams burst, sending millions of gallons of water rushing down the valley toward 16 small communities built along the creek's banks. The loss of life, property damage, and mental anguish were extensive and traumatic.
Stern, who was the lead attorney for a law firm that represented the survivors of this disaster, tells the story of the victims and relates the legal intrigues that formed litigation against the coal corporation responsibile for the disaster. Also described are problems with West Virginia authorities, including the governor, who historically had close political ties with coal companies.
The most gripping parts of Stern's book are the words from the survivors. Their stories of death and injury are made even more horrific when you realize that this disaster need not have occurred if the coal corporation had been less callous and more socially responsible.
This book is an evening's read and is highly recommended for anyone concerned about social justice, political intrigues, and corporate responsibilities.
am 29. Januar 2000
The premise of Stern's book is - "How the survivors of one of the worst disasters in coal-mining history brought suit against the coal company - and won."
One of my civil procedure professors required us to read this book before our first year of law school, because it does an excellent job of framing the issues that a lawyer might face. From that standpoint, it serves as a good teaching tool. From a social standpoint, I also believe that the book raises valuable questions about the legal system and whether it promotes corporates interests unless there is a firm like Arnold & Porter that is willing to step in and undertake this type of representation. Too often, there are attorneys who view mass disasters as an opportunity for themselves, rather than as the tragedy that they are for the victims. But, on a professional level, although I think that Mr. Stern did a good job of representing his clients, at the end of the book I wondered whether he was as successful as he thought he was. Certainly, his clients were better off than they had been before his efforts, but given the fact that his law firm earned more than $3 million from his efforts, did his 600+ clients fare as well as he thought?
am 12. August 1999
This is a tragically true story of how a big coal company built a totally unsupported mine waste pile in a valley with stream running through it. The dam failed during a storm, flooding the valley and killing 125 poor people living downstream. This book recounts the lawyer's tale of how he used the litigation process to fight an incredibly arrogant and wealthy coal company. Not quite Grisham-esque in his prose, Gerald Stern still does a good job of telling the tale and teaching the lay person how the legal system works for the victims. If you are thinking of becoming a trial lawyer, or just interested in a how a civil suit is filed and moves through all the steps to trial, this is a great introduction.
am 14. September 1999
This is a must read for any student of the Environmental Studies, any Eco-activist, or just anyone who cares about the health of the environment.
This book, while it did not focus on the areas of pollution, it did show what can come about from our country's ever increasing demand for fossil fuels. And how over 100 people paid the ultimate price for that demand.