Trial underway to determine liability in TVA coal ash spill litigation

U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan began preliminary matters Thursday in Knoxville, Tenn., regarding the massive coal ash spill that dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of sludge from a TVA storage pond into the Emory River and surrounding community on Dec. 22, 2008. The toxic tidal wave poured from a breached containment pond at the Kingston Plant and affected hundreds of people who made their home in nearby Roane County, Tenn. This trial will determine liability in the case, but will not address damages at this time.

According to a news report by the Associated Press, “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 about 206 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.

The cleanup efforts, which have been ongoing since the spill and are expected to cost around $1.2 billion, include the removal of more than 3.5 million cubic yards of ash and sediment from the Emory River, providing funding for a community betterment foundation for Roane County, and providing health screenings to affected residents. Coal ash contains such toxins as arsenic, lead, mercury and other heavy metals.

Beasley Allen attorneys are working with counsel for Plaintiffs in the other four lawsuits that have been consolidated for this bench trial. The litigation involves more than 230 Plaintiffs.

“After nearly three years, the residents and property owners affected by the coal ash spill are now getting their chance to hold TVA accountable for the destruction of their very way of life,” Beasley Allen lawyer David Byrne says.

TVA continues to argue that it is not liable for the spill, and according to the AP report says that “under Tennessee law it has no legal duty to keep its reservoirs and shorelines safe for the plaintiffs’ recreational use and enjoyment.”

Parties will make opening arguments and testimony will begin on Monday.