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Federal jury sides against coal ash clean-up company

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - A federal jury found Jacobs Engineering failed to protect workers at the Kingston fossil plant spill clean-up site. It has been nearly 10 years since the disaster, when a flood of water and coal ash gushed into the Emory River, onto surrounding homes and properties. Wednesday's verdict was good news for 70 employees and their spouses. 

The lawsuit was filed five years ago against Jacobs Engineering, the contractor hired for the project. Attorneys for the company have denied the allegations in court paperwork. 

In a verdict form, the jury selected yes to the following three questions: 
1. Do you find that the plaintiffs have proved, by a preponderance of the evidence, that defendant failed to adhere to the terms of its contract with TVA, or the requirements set forth in the site wide safety and health plan for the Kingston Site? 
2. Do you find that the plaintiffs have proved, by a prerespondance of the evidence, that defendant failed to exercise reasonable care in carrying out the duties that it owed to the plaintiffs? 
3. Do you find that the plaintiffs have proved, by a preponderance of the evidence, that defendant's breach of duty was capable of causing the following injuries or illnesses alleged by the plaintiffs? 
   a. hypertension 
   b. coronary artery disease   
   c. lung cancer   
   d. leukemia and other hematologic malignancies
   e. skin cancer
   f. allergic contact dermatitis
   g. peripheral neuropathy
   h. asthma 
   i. chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
   j. respiratory conditions, including cough, sore throat, dyspnea on exertion, chest pain or discomfort, bronchitis and emphysema 

Now, the trial enters phase two. Phase two will basically be a series of mini-trials where the jury will hear about specific injuries and possible causes. They will then determine if compensation is needed and how much. 

Jacobs Engineering has not responded to a request for comment.

Issacs says the company's legal team will likely "say maybe there was other causes. Maybe you smoked, maybe you had bad genes. So it's going to be interesting to see how they approach this. But, if the jury gets mad after hearing case after case after case, it could lead to significant punitive damages." 

Punitive damages, he explained, are designed to punish when conduct reaches a certain level outside the legal norm.


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