KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A federal appeals court has rejected a company’s request for immunity in a case filed by coal ash spill cleanup workers against a Tennessee Valley Authority contractor.

More than 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash was released into the Emory and Clinch Rivers in December 2008 when a dike holding back the substance at a Kingston coal-fired plant collapsed, the lawsuit said. Coal ash covered over 300 acres of land in the surrounding area, including homes and farmland, prompting a massive clean-up effort led by Jacobs Engineering.

A three-judge panel with Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Tennessee Valley Authority contractor Jacobs Engineering is not immune from the potential of having to pay former plant workers or the families of workers who’ve since died.

Cleanup workers claim they suffered damage to their health, some fatally, by being denied personal protection equipment like dust masks and facing other safety problems.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument by Jacobs’ lawyers that since the federal government has a certain level of immunity from lawsuits, so would TVA and their contractors.

In 2018, a federal jury ruled that the workers’ illnesses may have been caused by the coal ash exposure in phase one of a multiyear trial. The second phase of that lawsuit aims to look into what caused the worker’s injuries and how much compensation they should get.

The lawsuit remains ongoing and we’ll continue to update the proceedings as they unfold.