CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee – Because of their work on the water crisis litigation in West Virginia, attorneys at two Charleston law firms now are helping with a lawsuit against a water company in eastern Tennessee.
The class action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 in Hamilton County Circuit Court against Tennessee American Water (TAWC) and other water utilities after a major water main break left thousands of customers in Chattanooga and North Georgia without running water for days. Chattanooga attorney Lee Davis of Davis & Hoss filed the lawsuit just one day after service was restored following the Sept. 12 incident. The named plaintiffs are Shaun Christopher Bruce and Robert Scott Kelly and Trinity Entertainment LLC.
Davis sought the help of Charleston attorneys Stuart Calwell, Dante diTrapano and Alex McLaughlin of Calwell Luce diTrapano as well as Charleston attorney Rod Jackson. They all worked on the litigation related to the 2014 incident in Charleston. The 2014 chemical spill affected more than 300,000 people in nine West Virginia counties.
“We joined with the lawyers who successfully prosecuted a similar water loss case against American Water and another of its subsidiaries, West Virginia-American Water Company,” Davis told members of the Chattanooga media. “While we cannot guarantee an outcome, we hope for an equally good result here and are prepared to put forth the effort necessary to see that happens on behalf of our clients and everyone adversely affected by this water outage.”
The 2014 class-action lawsuit alleged West Virginia American Water (WVAW) did not adequately prepare for or respond to the chemical spill and that Eastman Chemical, the maker of the chemical MCHM, did not properly warn Freedom Industries of the dangers of its chemical or take any action when officials learned the Freedom facility along the Elk River in Charleston was in disrepair. WVAW and Eastman both deny any liability and blame the crisis on Freedom Industries.
“It is an honor for our firm to represent the people of Tennessee in this case,” diTrapano told The West Virginia Record. “Public utilities must be held accountable when they fail in their monopolistic obligations to customers.
“Our experience litigating and the settlement achieved in the Good v. WVAW case prove that.”
Chattanooga and surrounding areas were under a boil water advisory. The Tennessee lawsuit says a restaurant owned by Trinity Entertainment lost business, and Trinity "asserts that it faces the potential for a long-term decrease in revenue because of the continuing effect on consumer confidence in the local water supply."
A cause of the Chattanooga incident hasn’t been determined. But a member of the Chattanooga City Council is asking if officials are reviewing a decade-old study that predicted a failed infrastructure.
“We filed the case to ensure that area residents and business are not left holding the bag for Tennessee American Water’s utter failure to provide a safe continuous supply of tap water,” Davis told members of the Chattanooga media.
The lawsuit says the incident is “the result of a foreseeable failure in a distribution pipe” out of TAWC’s Wiehl Street Plant. It also says the company could have prevented or avoided what happened "with better precautionary measures, compliance with applicable regulations, and the use of reasonable care."
The Chattanooga lawsuit doesn't specify dollar amounts, but it seeks damages including wages lost, business and economic losses, out-of-pocket expenses for those affected, attorneys' fees and other relief.
“We joined with the lawyers who successfully prosecuted a similar water loss case against American Water and another of its subsidiaries, West Virginia-American Water Company. Information on that case is available at https://www.wvwaterclaims.com/,” Davis said. “While we cannot guarantee an outcome, we hope for an equally good result here and are prepared to put forth the effort necessary to see that happens on behalf of our clients and everyone adversely affected by this water outage.”
Hamilton Circuit Court case number 19-C-1051