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Confidential Settlement Reached in Kingston Coal Ash Spill Lawsuits

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May 30, 2023

by Kaitlin Gagnon

After over a decade of litigation and negotiations, Milberg attorneys have reached a settlement with Jacobs Solutions on behalf of injured workers tasked to remediate the devastating 2008 Kingston coal ash spill of Eastern Tennessee, the largest in the nation’s history.

Representing over 220 workers and over 100 additional spouses of workers, Milberg announced the confidential settlement agreement to resolve all cases in a joint statement earlier this week from Greg Coleman and Jacobs attorney, Dwight Tarwater.

On December 22, 2008, a ruptured pond wall at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal ash storage site led to the release of 5.4 million cubic yards of waste into the Emory River Channel, ravaging nearby homes and hundreds of surrounding acres. Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal agency, contracted Jacobs Solutions to enforce sitewide safety and health during the clean-up.

Workers began filing lawsuits as early as 2013 for personal injuries after inhaling and/or ingesting coal ash during the clean-up, a process that exceeded one year’s time.

During the first phase of trial in 2018, a federal jury found Jacobs had violated its contract with the Tennessee Valley Authority, exposing the clean-up workers to coal ash and putting them at risk through actions that may have led to the significant health conditions the workers—who operated without masks or protective gear—have reportedly experienced. These health problems range from lung cancer, coronary artery disease, leukemia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and emphysema, among others.

Dozens of workers have since died.

Jacobs Solutions would go on to appeal to the Sixth Circuit and request immunity through an extension of the immunity granted to the Tennessee Valley Authority, a government agency, as its contractor. The request was denied in the Spring of 2022.

Workers and families have rejected at least three prior Jacobs settlement offers throughout, including one for $35 million in late 2021.

Phase two of the trial, during which plaintiffs would seek compensatory damages, would have been largely influenced by the outcome of an ongoing Tennessee Supreme Court case involving the state’s silica statute and whether that statute applies to coal fly ash. Coal fly ash, although primarily silica, contains harsh heavy metals and elements that may potentially emit radiation, including mercury, cadmium, chromium, and arsenic. Such toxic elements have the potential to be inhaled or ingested through exposure to coal fly ash.

While prepared to help workers prove their health problems were ultimately caused by the actions of Jacobs Solutions, Milberg is proud to announce the settlement on behalf of the affected workers and families, reaching a resolution nearly 15 years after the unprecedented environmental disaster.

“We made law twice in the 6th Circuit,” said Mr. Coleman. “Not only was a general causation verdict won but now, TVA and any entity that produces coal ash and manages it are open to claims, whereas prior to this case, there was no chance of that happening.”

Mr. Coleman recognized the entire Milberg team including Billy Ringger, Mark Silvey, Adam Edwards, Will Ladnier, Alexandra Honeycutt, Virginia Whitener, Alex Straus, Jonathan Cohen, Kelsey Davies, Nita Gorman, Dawn Holt, Jackie Frasure, and Celia Hastings.

Milberg’s Environmental and Toxic Torts Litigation group proudly continues its tradition of effectuating meaningful change through the courts, helping thousands of individuals and businesses negatively affected by man-made disasters both in the United States and abroad.

Milberg attorneys have successfully represented parties similarly involved in catastrophic environmental disasters including the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Huntington Beach oil spill, the Eastman Chemical Company steam pipe explosion, and Brazil’s Samarco dam disaster.