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The Buffalo Creek Disaster: How the survivors of one of the worst disasters in coal-mining history brought s uit against the coal company--and won

3.54  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,162 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
One Saturday morning in February 1972, an impoundment dam owned by the Pittston Coal Company burst, sending a 130 million gallon, 25 foot tidal wave of water, sludge, and debris crashing into southern West Virginia's Buffalo Creek hollow. It was one of the deadliest floods in U.S. history. 125 people were killed instantly, more than 1,000 were injured, and over 4,000 were ...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published January 26th 2011 by Vintage (first published 1976)
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Sara
Sep 17, 2015 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting to read this, especially as a junior associate at a firm. Stern writes that this case, representing residents of a valley that was absolutely decimated by a flood from coal mining, was the most important thing he would ever do.

The writing was fine. It was pretty clearly written by a practiced litigator. The sections describing law and procedure were pretty clear and polished. The more human parts, describing what actually happened to the dam and what people actually experienced
...more
Miranda
Disclaimer: This book was required reading for my introductory civil procedure class in law school.

This book is an account written by the attorney for the survivors of the Buffalo Creek dam break in West Virginia. In it, Gerald Stern describes how he came to be the attorney for the plaintiffs, some of the personal stories of the survivors, and of the legal action that went into challenging the Buffalo Creek Company and the Pittston Company for a settlement.

Stern explained the legal procedures
...more
Edith
Sep 09, 2010 Edith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: law, books-i-own
Nice introduction to the procedures of a civil case on corporate irresponsibility, written by the lead counsel of the case. The book alternatively feels like a legal drama where both sides utilized legal strategies and procedural choices to battle it out, alongside anecdotes from survivors of the human aspects of suffering and gross negligence that led to the case.

Makes one feel both in awe and in disgust about what legal dealings require of people, and stretching the ethics even for the lawyer
...more
Eric Farr
The Buffalo Creek Disaster is, if nothing else, informative. It is certainly a good introduction to the process of American federal civil procedure. It is a pinpoint-specific history lesson on a tragic event. It is also a fairly compelling drama, and for nonfiction, it feels rather like a legal thriller, with the bold, young, heroic attorney taking on a big coal company to fight for the traumatized survivors of this horrific disaster, the Buffalo Creek Flood.

That said, the narrative suggests mem
...more
Evan
Aug 17, 2009 Evan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the first book assigned for my Civil Procedure class this Fall. Not hard to understand why. As the lengthy subtitle indicates, this is classic white knight lawyer stuff. A hard-won battle by a lawyer (Stern) with a background fighting for Af-Am voting rights in the south in the early 60s to demonstrate the "reckless negligence" of the Pittston coal company in maintaining a dammed reservoir of coal mining waste, leading to a substantial remedy awarded to the sympathetic victims of a terr ...more
Amaha
Aug 26, 2008 Amaha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: law-school-books
I'm going to start reviewing books I read in law school that have some chance of being of general interest, since I suspect that my non-law reading will decline significantly.

This was an engrossing story of a mining community destroyed (over 100 dead, the town wiped out) by mining company negligence, and a legal procedural about the suit against the company as told by the plaintiff's lawyer. It's apparently standard reading for first-year law students, as it introduces many of the basic concept
...more
Elizabeth
Aug 24, 2007 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in man-made disasters and/or law
Just read this for law school, which I started this month. I have said good-bye for the next four years to my local bookstore (my usual place to find the next book I'd like to read) and said hello to casebooks on civil procedure and contracts.

The professor had us read this book, which is more narrative, as a way to ease us into civil procedure. Very kind of her. The story is interesting enough that I would have liked to have read it even if I weren't in law school. In W. Va. in the mid-1970's, h
...more
Lani
Mar 25, 2013 Lani rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy the weird finds that turn into fascinating reads.

The book seems to be geared towards a law student audience, in that it discusses much of the methodolgy used by the legal team suing on behalf of the Buffalo Creek flood victims. Fortunately, this isn't all legal jargon and dry text, and this ends up a suprisingly readable book.

The chapters tend to blend the personal histories with the legal process, keeping a very human side to this telling. I think that's particularly important when wri
...more
Shannon
In February of 1972, Dam 3 in Pitchfork, West Virginia broke and demolished an entire community, taking hundreds of lives and thousands of dollars in property damage. Someone had to pay for not only the damages -- but as this landmark case proved -- the psychological fallout experienced by victims of the disaster. That someone was Pittson, and they were bullied in to paying up by Stern and his legal crew. Although the narration is desperately dry, the events and timeline are what propel this boo ...more
Jessica
I had to read this book for class so i almost didnt review this but then i figured what the heck it wont take me very long i might as well. Pros: the book does a pretty good job of helping laymen understand legal terms and proceedings (mostly lost on me since i already knew these things as a law student). Cons: the author is not a terribly good writer overall it reads like he thinks he's making it exciting and dramatic but in all reality its just a sad story with sooooo much lead up of boring le ...more
Lawrence
Guess I'm just too cynical to enjoy the lawyer-as-hero genre. Statements like "sometimes you do well by doing good" just contribute to my growing sense of cynicism. I'd stick to fiction - To Kill a Mockingbird, for example - for the inspiring lawyer genre. That said, the book is a good example of the process of preparing for a mass tort suit, interjecting a sense of the politics, personalities, and mundane reality into what's largely a tedious, often frustrating, and did I say tedious? process, ...more
Todd Van Meter
Aug 12, 2011 Todd Van Meter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very enlightening book revealing a chapter in coal mining history that still shames the mining industry. For those of us involved in the moder day technical design and regulatory permitting of structures associated with the coal mining industry this book is a reminder that there is no substitute for common sense and human empathy when contemplating the possible effects of our work upon the surrounding land and its inhabitants. The hubris and reckless disregard of the mining industry, in this p ...more
Jessica
Was at Legion Brewing tonight, and saw this book on the shelf. I recall reading this and enjoying it - which is odd as it was assigned reading for some in law school, and assigned reading was never something I was good at doing. So that's fun. I'm guessing 2010, but it might have been 2009.
Fishface
The story of an atrocious disaster and the response of the devastated survivors. This one should be a valuable lesson to those who feel trade unions are not needed in this country, or just for readers who think lawyers are bad people.
Montazar
I was forced to read it

But it wasn't bad at all. It give a good insight on the coal mining history in the U.S. and it's a great book to understand lawsuits process
somehow real stories have more drama than ficition
Russell Hayes
Jan 18, 2012 Russell Hayes rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: law
I read this book for litigation drafting class in law school. It tells the tale of a small coal mining village being devastated by a flood caused by overflowing sludge from a waste dump of the mine. The powerful, political D.C. firm of Arnold and Porter took the case pro bono.

While the book was unabashedly pro-plaintiff and anti-big corporation (a tired theme nowadays), it was a mildly interesting read that managed to keep me reading until the end. The book should appeal to both lawyers and nonl
...more
Rebecca McNutt
This book reminded me of the film Little Accidents - a story of industrial corruption and those who stand up to it, The Buffalo Creek Disaster is both exciting and informative at the same time.
Fred Venturini
Apr 20, 2011 Fred Venturini rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was part of an MBA course in business law, and I'm here commenting on Goodreads because it was simply fantastic. I've read legal thrillers that were not as legitimately moving, suspenseful, and straightforward as this book. Roger Ebert once said that a film that ends with a big courtroom scene is rarely any good, and the same can be said here--no big courtroom scene, not even a trial, but the processes of discovery and negotiation and legal gamesmanship makes for a refreshing approach ...more
Shawn
Oct 04, 2014 Shawn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this in law school. The book was recommended to 1Ls as a primer in civil legal procedure. There is not much of a plot but it is interesting in its own way.
Nicki
Nov 07, 2013 Nicki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was required to read this book in my law school Civil Procedure class. I found myself reading the book for a second time a year later. This is a fascinating page-turner about how mega-companies can do horribly detrimental, and eventually practically homicidal, acts without question until a huge disaster hits. I found the book interesting not only because I was amazed at the layers of negligence and secrecy that were uncovered, but also because it caused me to think about all the industries in ...more
Tyler Storm
Aug 13, 2015 Tyler Storm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for my civil procedure class. Wish that the author went into more details about his expert reports prior to going to trial, and then perhaps in the practical aspects of settling. He just kind of concludes at the end that he settled for $13 million rather than explaining what happens after(proper allocation, company admitting guilt?, distribution to various classes of plaintiffs, etc)

But anyways this book served its purpose and is a decent primer to Civil Procedure in America. I'
...more
Michael
Feb 07, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book does a great job of showing the unglamorous side of a glamorous, headline-grabbing lawsuit. It shows that being a lawyer is not nearly as dramatic as what you see in movies or TV, but consists of a lot of plodding research, a lot of procedural maneuvering, and a lot of perseverance. A good behind-the-scenes look at what lawyers really do.
Lisa
Aug 27, 2009 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: law, nonfiction
My first required reading for law school. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot too. I feel much better informed about the options survivors have after an environmental disaster and it gives a neat window into a lawyer's work.

The book also left me with a big question about why survivors of Hurricanes Katrina in New Orleans haven't launched a suit against the Army Corps of Engineeers. I did a Google search and found out that a very small number of survivors actually have begun a lawsuit against
...more
Alyssa Urban
Jul 20, 2016 Alyssa Urban rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had to read this book for class. If you are legal minded, like myself, you will love it. For all others, maybe not.
Natalie
Aug 23, 2008 Natalie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Natalie by: Law school assignment
Shelves: non-fiction, legal
A little bit dry in spots and also biased because it's told solely from the plaintiffs' attorney's POV, but overall it's a good breakdown of trial preparations in a large damages case. Stern does a good job of describing, in detail, the discovery process, as well as many of the other decisions/ factors involved in preparing to try a civil case, such as using diversity jurisdiction to try the case in a federal rather than a state court since, at that time, West Virginia was well known for its cor ...more
Alice
Aug 16, 2010 Alice rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2010
Thoughtful story of Arnold & Porter's lawsuit against the coal company behind the Buffalo Creek dam disaster. Very similar to A Civil Action, except that this author had much more help and legal muscle behind his operation than the practitioner in A Civil Action.

This book probably wouldn't be all that interesting to non-law folks, but I found the book a good depiction of what litigation was like, with good insights into lawyer decision-making. My favorite anecdote had to be the one where on
...more
Alicedewonder
Aug 01, 2011 Alicedewonder rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
IF YOU'RE SACRIFICING AT LEAST YOUR TEARS AS ATTORNEY GERALD M. STERN RELIVES THIS HORRIFIC MULTI-BURIALS OF PEOPLE WHILE THEY RAN IN FEAR OF A COAL MINE'S NEGLIGENCE, THEN KICK START YOUR HUMANITY.
THEY ARE OFTEN FORGOTTEN BECAUSE ALTHOUGH WE BURN THEIR MINED FUEL, WE NEGLECT THEIR SAFETY. AS THE SLAG PILES GROW HIGHER THE OWNERS DO NOTHING TO CART IT AWAY. WHEN IT RAINS PEOPLE ARE LITERALLY BURIED ALIVE. BUT THIS ATTORNEY MADE HIS STAND. I AM PROUD TO HAVE READ HIS STORY AND THE TRUTH HE EXPOSE
...more
Nicole
Feb 26, 2016 Nicole rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, 2016, print
Had to read this for class - a quick, interesting read for those in the legal field.
Hannah Debelius
Jan 09, 2016 Hannah Debelius rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great non fiction about coal, the environment, and community. Changes your perspective.
Ross Cohen
An excellent view into how lawyers prepare cases for trial and why those cases so often reach settlement.
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