Minority Neighborhood Residents Awarded $12.5M Settlement in Botched Coal Plant Demolition

Residents in a largely-minority neighborhood in southwest Chicago will share a $12.25 million dollar settlement to compensate them for property damage and personal injuries from a botched demolition of a coal plant. The Illinois judge approved the settlement on April 22, 2024.

Coal plant

ByCarolyn Casey, J.D.

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Published on June 4, 2024

Coal plant

What Happened?

In 2017, Hilco, a real estate investment and redevelopment company, bought the Crawford Coal Plant located near the Little Village neighborhood to redevelop it. The purchase occurred five years after the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJ Organization) forced the prior owner to close down the plant that was subjecting people living near it to "extreme health consequences."

During the Hilco redevelopment, the JVEJ Organization continued to voice concerns over the toxic substances in the plant. The plaintiffs alleged that Hilco and others repeatedly assured the organization that every precaution would be taken to keep demolition debris out of the neighborhood’s air.

Toxic dust rained down on the homes in the neighborhood as Hilco demolished the coal plant, particularly when workers destroyed the smokestack.

Lawsuit Filed

Little Village residents filed a class action lawsuit against Hilco and its contractors shortly after the demolition. Plaintiffs maintained that defendants cut corners when they failed to take measures to contain a massive debris offshoot that erupted when Hilco knocked down the plant’s smokestack.

Filings established two classes in this case. One, those class members whose property suffered damage from the debris plume. The other class consisted of residents who were physically located in the geographic area when the debris offshoot blanketed the neighborhood. Residents of Little Village filed in excess of 21,000 valid claims.

The class action case is Solis et al. v. Hilco Redevelopment LLC et al., case number 1:20-cv-02348, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Bradley Weidenhammer, Alexandra Schrader, Brendan Ryan, Colin Martindale, and Sarah Angelino of Kirkland & Ellis LLP represented Hilco in this action.

Defendant, Controlled Demolitions Inc., was represented by Stephen Heil, Scott Pfeiffer, and Andrew Rice of Cray Huber Horstman Heil & VanAusdal LLC and Caitlin Sinclair of Nicolaides Fink Thorpe Michaleides Sullivan LLP.

While co-defendant and contractor Marine Technology Solutions LLC’s counsel were James Best of James L. Best Law Office and Thomas Lyman III of Amundsen Davis LLC.

MCM Management Corp., the contractor that oversaw the demolitions at the plant, was represented by Edward Devries, Cameron Wall, and Sean Wagner of Wilson Else Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP.

Settlement Approved

The plaintiff’s motion asking the judge to approve the settlement stated that the agreed amount would be a “meaningful monetary recovery” for the thousands of residents affected by the mismanaged demolition. The settlement drew no objections.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Young Kim approved the settlement, characterizing it as “fair, reasonable and adequate.” The judge also approved approximately $3.7 million in attorneys' fees, equaling about one-third of the settlement total.

After deducting the attorneys’ fees and other costs, class members will divvy up $1 million for property damage and $7 million for personal injury claims.

Jon Loevy of Loevy & Loevy, one of the attorneys representing the residents, said “[W]e're very pleased to have been able to get justice for the community." He added that he hoped that “developers will think twice before doing something like that again."

Counsel for Hilco did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the finalized settlement on Tuesday.

About the author

Carolyn Casey, J.D.

Carolyn Casey, J.D.

Carolyn Casey is a seasoned professional with extensive experience in legal tech, e-discovery, and legal content creation. As Principal of WritMarketing, she combines her decade of Big Law experience with two decades in software leadership to provide strategic consulting in product strategy, content, and messaging for legal tech clients. Previously, Carolyn served as Legal Content Writer for Expert Institute, Sr. Director of Industry Relations at AccessData, and Director of Product Marketing at Zapproved, focusing on industry trends in forensic investigations, compliance, privacy, and e-discovery. Her career also includes roles at Iron Mountain as Head of Legal Product Management and Sr. Product Marketing Manager, where she led product and marketing strategies for legal services, and at Fios Inc as Sr. Marketing Manager, specializing in eDiscovery solutions.

Her early legal expertise was honed at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, where she developed legal strategies for mergers, acquisitions, and international finance matters. Carolyn's education includes a J.D. from American University Washington College of Law, where she was a Senior Editor for the International Law Journal and participated in a pioneering China Summer Law Program. She also holds an AB in Political Science with a minor in art history from Stanford University. Her diverse skill set encompasses research, creative writing, copy editing, and a deep understanding of legal product marketing and international legal trends.

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