Kentucky Coal Company Sued Over Flooding Death

October 13, 2011

A lawsuit filed by residents in southeastern Kentucky blames a mining company’s surface mining practices for stoking a flood that killed a man and damaged homes in Knox County this summer.

The suit against Nally & Hamilton Enterprises includes more than 70 people who say they were affected by the June flood. The suit claims that the mine operator failed in its reclamation of the mine and didn’t keep drainage ponds cleaned out, which allowed excess water to run off the site June 20 during the heavy rains in the area.

Jack Spadaro, a former federal mining official and consultant on the lawsuit, told the Lexington Herald-Leader the complaint is apparently the first filed in Kentucky that blames a fatality on flooding caused by improper surface mining.

Martin Cunningham, an attorney for Nally & Hamilton of Bardstown, said the company denies it caused or worsened the flooding. He said he could not comment further on the suit.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount of money to compensate people and punish the coal company.

Water and debris swamped a small creek below the company’s mine in southern Knox County, washing some homes off their foundations and leaving a thick coat of mud in others.

Donnie Joe Pate, 55, died after being swept from a mobile home where he lived with his mother. The water picked up the trailer and smashed it against a bridge, injuring Pate’s mother.

The suit says Nally & Hamilton’s negligence and reckless conduct caused Pate’s death. The company had been cited seven times in the two years before the flood for permit violations, such as failing to properly maintain drainage-control systems, the suit said.

The company’s poor mining practices “created, caused or played a substantial role” in massive amounts of water, rocks, mud and trees rushing off the mine site during the storm June 20, the lawsuit said.

Other residents have sued in recent years claiming surface-mining practices have caused or contributed to flooding and resulting damage in eastern Kentucky.

More than 80 Breathitt County residents sued coal companies after a 2009 flood, and there is a suit pending in Pike County involving more than 150 people who claim mining played a role in flooding that damaged their property.

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