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The Buffalo Creek Disaster: The Story of the Surviviors' Unprecedented Lawsuit (Vintage)
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The Buffalo Creek Disaster: The Story of the Surviviors' Unprecedented Lawsuit (Vintage)

3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  834 ratings  ·  81 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
Paperback, 304 pages
Published February 12th 1977 by Vintage (first published 1976)
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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
إديث
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
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
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 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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
Russell Hayes
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
Fred Venturini
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
Nicki
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
Lisa
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
Natalie
Aug 23, 2008 Natalie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
Brugge
Tough luck town, tough luck profession and a real heart-breaking story. Chalk one up for families of the miners and for the “good” lawyers who represented them. Also gives an insight into coal-mining and how it is a way of life in certain parts of the country. Really is a must read for anyone considering going to law school with an interest in litigation. It is also a very enjoyable read for people simply interested in the way our justice system & tort litigation really works and not what yo...more
Chrisiant
This is a quick little read, with an arguably happy ending (although whether the survivors of Buffalo Creek "won" is debatable). It's a good lens through which to contemplate things like the difficulties that arise when rich city lawyers represent people who are none of those things, and how environmental corner cutting leads to disasters that companies then try to weasel out of dealing with. It's also an interesting snapshot of the internal workings of an environmental disaster lawsuit.
Adrienne Bagnato
Excellent Book - this was a re-read of a required reading book from my Civil Procedure class in Law School. It is funny what a difference 25 years makes. I remember thinking how complex and difficult the process of a trial seemed and now it was an easy read. Very sad story of a dam failure (actually a few) that wiped out all the towns in the valley. The devastation was incredible; it matched the callousness of the company that caused it.
Brian
Sep 07, 2008 Brian rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: own
I had to read this over the weekend for my Civil Procedure course. What did I learn? A few little tricks that could be helpful in a litigation career. What else did I learn?

That not every book assigned for law school has to be inaccessible and slow-reading, or full of complicated legalese. I highly recommend this to any lay people who enjoy Grisham and want something slightly less exciting, but 100% real.
B
Oct 21, 2013 B rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: own, westend
This was pretty fun, but the big problem (what puts it way behind, for instance, A Civil Action, is that the plaintiffs — from whose point of view the book is exclusively written — never lose. They never lose a single battle or motion or fact or anything. Stern just rolls up this book ol' company like it wasn't even there.

But it's interesting to see the strategic thinking.
Ashley
I didn't dislike this book. It was a forced class read but it didn't bother me because I've always enjoyed reading these types of books.

However, I wasn't a huge fan of the author. He comes of a tad pompous.

The story was great even though I thought the ending was a bit abrupt. I was expecting the story to continue but it did not, which I should have been expecting all along.
Steven
Tremendous book that was required reading as part of my first year law school Civil Procedure class. Although I believe this book attempted to teach us the concept of "piercing the corporate viel," it is more about how a terrible mining disaster becomes a legal issue. Book recounts the litigation over the Buffalo Creek dam disaster that killed and injured many in West Virginia.
Alison
I learned about the Buffalo Creek Flood last year during my ASP trip from a local survivor who told us her account of the disaster as our guest speaker on culture night. Already being moved by her story, I am really enjoying reading the legal story of the fight back by the devastated survivors to overcome the powerful mining company and corrupt local government.
Laura
Dec 24, 2008 Laura rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: civil procedure prof, if by "recommended" you mean "assigned"
Heh, looks like a lot of other civ pro profs assign this book. For assigned reading, I thought it was pretty great - better than a casebook. For free reading, neh. I remember being a little irritated with the narrator because of his portrayal of the adversaries. I probably wouldn't have chosen to read it if I hadn't had to, but I enjoyed it as an assignment.
Courtney
Amazing book even though I had to read it for class. Despite being written by a lawyer it is very easy to understand and is written in a way that makes you want to keep turning the pages. I definitely recommend this book for anyone in law school or thinking about going to law school or just someone interested in disasters and the legal ramifications.
Joel
Relatively interesting to see the laws of civil procedure and the strange, convoluted American legal system. Always nice to see the populist leader overcome the evil corporate behemoth. Pretty impressive that the lawyer, a Harvard JD graduate, was willing to fore-go prestige and the comfy life to help people taken advantage of.
Sean
The author is a little self-aggrandizing, but the book is still a great introduction to problems with coal mining in Appalachia and issues relating to rural justice. It's a fun, easy, provocative and evocative read, taking you to places and problems you may not have dealt with if these issues aren't on your regular docket.
Jen Addonizio
Another law school required book, which turned out to be not only interesting but gave good insight into the inner-workings of the legal system as it works for plaintiffs. Before I read this, I was completely unaware of the coal-mining catastrophe in Buffalo. This was a good, though not completely riveting, read.
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The Buffalo Creek Disaster: How the Survivors of One of the Worst Disasters in Coal-Mining History Brought Suit Against the Coal Company- And Won Parkinson's Disease 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

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