Dozens of people who attended a Neighborhood Watch meeting Monday at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights received instruction on how to fill-out claim forms seeking damages from Exide Technologies by a court imposed Oct. 31st deadline.
The publicly traded corporation with operations in 80 countries, filed for bankruptcy in early summer.
The US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware recently mailed claim forms to a wide swath of residents living in the area believed most negatively impacted by harmful lead and arsenic emissions from Exide’s lead battery-recycling plant in Vernon. The targeted area includes Vernon, the nearby cities of Huntington Park, Maywood, Commerce and Montebello, and the communities of Boyle Heights and unincorporated East Los Angeles.
People at Monday’s meeting were told they have to file the claim form before the Oct. 31 deadline — even if they do not have all their information or know how much to seek in financial damages —if they want to preserve their right to seek damages.
While assistance was given in filling out the forms, volunteers emphasized that they were not giving legal advise and urged participants to seek the help of an attorney.
Teresa Marquez of the Boyle Heights Stakeholders Association told EGP the workshop was very informative and that she liked the “clarity and honesty” of the presenters.
Marquez pointed out, for example, that residents were told to look for an attorney who will review the merits of their case and be paid on a contingency basis. If an attorney wants a retainer, look for another attorney, Marquez said they were told.
The two-page claim form, with a third page of continued instructions, has nine short sections. Residents were told they could skip sections 4 through 6 that specifically deal with claims for delivered goods or services not paid for by the company.
Residents were also told the “[monetary] amount of claim as of date case filed” could be an estimated amount for medical bills, loss of earnings, emotional distress, or they could simply write “to be determined.”
The basis for their claim is personal injury due to their exposure to toxic emissions from the Exide plant. This type of personal injury claim is known as a “toxic tort,” said Anastasia Mazzella, an attorney volunteering at the meeting. She said the claims could be amended at a later date, calling this a “band aide measure in the 11th hour.”
Other suggestions included filing a separate claim form for every member of a family and not just one claim form for the entire family, mailing each claim separately and being sure to keep a copy of the original form and all supporting documents, like medical evaluations or bills. If a claimant doesn’t have the supporting documents ready, he or she can write “still gathering documents” on the form, Mazzella said.
She suggested residents pay the extra postage for overnight delivery because it would give them proof that the document was delivered on time. She noted that the claims must be received by Oct. 31, and not just postmarked by that date. She also pointed out that the delivery address for the overnight shipments is different than those being sent by regular mail. She urged people to overnight the forms no later than Tuesday, Oct. 29.
The claim process can be long and complicated, with no guarantee of payment at the end. But submitting the form can ensure you’re at least “in line,” and if your claim is turned down, it does not preclude your right to sue, residents were told.
Monday’s meeting was presented in partnership with the offices of US Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, State Sen. Kevin de León, Assembly Speaker John Pérez and Sen. Ricardo Lara.
It was the follow up to town hall meeting held earlier this month where the arsenic and lead contamination coming from the plant was the main topic of discussion.
Several Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles residents told EGP Monday that they plan file a claim, including long time Boyle Heights resident Rita Govea who says she believes her thyroid cancer and many of the medical problems suffered by members of her family are directly related to decades of exposure to Exide’s pollution.
Govea and others are convinced Exide is to blame for their ailments and suffering.