U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan issued a ruling on August 23rd in favor of the Plaintiffs who are seeking to hold the Tennessee Valley Authority accountable for its wrongdoing that resulted in the largest coal ash spill in U.S. history. Judge Varlan found that TVA is responsible for the failure of its coal ash storage and containment pond, which ruptured on December 22, 2008 near Kingston, Tenn. When the containment pond ruptured, the resulting tsunami of coal ash waste literally knocked homes from their foundations and contaminated the Emory and Clinch rivers. The dike failure resulted in more than 1 billion gallons of ash sludge enveloping the surrounding community. This ruling was a tremendous victory for the property owners in a most important case.
Judge Varlan, in his ruling, found that TVA did not build the holding ponds according to plan; did not train its inspectors how to inspect the stability of the dikes, and did not properly maintain the facility to prevent the failure of the dikes. The ruling will allow Plaintiffs’ claims of negligence, trespass and private nuisance to proceed to Phase II proceedings to determine damages. Our firm and the other law firms making up the trial team represent over 600 property owners whose property and way of life have been adversely impacted by the spill. The trial team was made up David Byrne and Brantley Fry from Beasley Allen; Elizabeth Alexander of Lieff Cabraser from Nashville, Tenn.; Gary Davis of Davis and Whitlock from Hot Springs, N.C.; Jeff Freidman and Matt Conn from the Birmingham firm of Friedman Leak; Paul Brandes of Villari, Brandes and Gianonne in Conshohocken, Pa.; and Joanne McLaren from the New York firm of Weitz and Luxenberg. This was a tremendous team effort by the lawyers on behalf of the property owners. Their respective staff members also did excellent work in getting this monumental case ready for trial.
As a government corporation, TVA has certain immunity, but this ruling shows that not even the Federal government is above reproach when its actions – or inactions in this case – result in a massive disaster that changed the face of an entire community. Cleanup efforts have been ongoing since the spill and are expected to cost around $1.2 billion. The cleanup has turned the once-tranquil Watts Bar Lake community into a massive construction site. The EPA and TVA held public meetings as recently as this August to determine how to deal with 500,000 cubic yards of coal ash that remain on the Emory and Clinch river bottoms to this day.
The Environmental Protection Agency has described the spill as “one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind.” To put things in perspective with another recent environmental catastrophe, the BP oil spill released more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of nearly five months. The TVA coal ash spill released more than a billion gallons of toxic sludge over 300 acres in East Tennessee within the course of minutes. Toxic sludge from the coal ash containment pond contains arsenic, lead, mercury and other heavy metals. We look forward to phase II when damages for each Plaintiff will be proved. If you need additional information on this subject, contact Rhon Jones or Brantley Fry in our office at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com or Brantley.Fry@beasleyallen.com.
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