Monumental Supreme Court Ruling Exposes TVA to Lawsuits
May 1st, 2019 by Attorney John Colvin
In 2013, two fishermen competing in a fishing tournament steered their boat into the Tennessee River. In that same space, workers with the Tennessee Valley Authority were raising a submerged power line. The boat was struck by a conductor, badly injuring the boat’s operator, Gary Thacker, and killing his passenger, Anthony Szozda.
Thacker and his wife wanted compensation for what they believed to be negligence on behalf of the TVA. But getting payment from the TVA proved difficult because of the federally owned corporation’s supposed immunity from such lawsuits. After two rulings against the Thackers, the Supreme Court weighed in and unanimously decided that TVA is not immune from litigation.
Whether the Thackers will get the compensation they’re seeking remains to be seen, but this decision has big consequences for TVA and for the millions of Tennesseans living in areas affected by the TVA’s operations.
The TVA is a “Quasi-Governmental” Entity
As a general rule, one can’t sue the government. The government is protected from lawsuits by a concept known as “sovereign immunity.” However, the TVA is unlike many government entities because it is set up like a corporation but wields government authority. This makes it an odd hybrid, and it’s that murky status as both a corporation and a government entity that warranted a ruling by the Supreme Court.
Though the details of the case and why it was an issue that the Supreme Court wanted to hear can be complicated, the takeaway is that the TVA is vulnerable to litigation because of the Court’s decision.
Why This Matters for Residents of the Tennessee Valley
An operation with the power and reach of the TVA has a big effect on residents of the Tennessee Valley. Historically, many of these effects have been positive. It brought electricity and economic development to the region at a time when they were desperately needed. It was and continues to be a source of employment for many of our residents.
But not all of TVA’s efforts are good for Tennesseans. For example, a 2008 coal ash spill at the TVA’s Kingston plant continues to plague our state. A decade after the incident, hundreds of the workers that helped clean up the spill are seriously ill and another 40 are dead. Testing has revealed that arsenic and other toxins are present in elevated levels around power plants and their landfills throughout Tennessee.
There are also incidents in which people like Thacker suffer isolated injuries because of work the TVA is doing. Previously, injured people were left in a difficult spot. They couldn’t hold TVA accountable the same way they would if it were a business. That’s why the Supreme Court’s decision is an important development for citizens of our region who would like to take legal action against the TVA.
The fact that the TVA can now be sued for personal injury claims means that anyone unduly harmed by the TVA can be confident that their claim will be heard.
Representing the Interests of Ordinary Citizens
For more than 20 years, John R. Colvin has been helping injured people get the compensation they need after suffering injuries due to someone else’s negligence. If you or a loved one has been injured and you want to explore your legal options, we offer free consultations to help you better understand the path forward.
We encourage you to contact John R. Colvin to schedule a meeting with our team. Give us a call or fill out our online contact form to get started.