Jury: Mining Company Not Liable for Apartment Damage

December 10, 2012

A jury says the Atlantic Richfield Co. isn’t responsible for damages to a historic Butte apartment building that the owner said were caused by mining done a half-century ago.

The Montana Standard reports the jury deliberated about two hours before handing down the verdict Friday evening. The decision means ARCO won’t have to pay monetary damages to Jody Barile, the owner of the 36-unit building.

Barile, who bought the building in 1997, began noticing cracks in the facade around 2001. She sued ARCO, contending the damage was because of subsidence, caused by underground mining at the site done by the Anaconda Co. in the 1940s and 1950s. ARCO purchased the Anaconda Co. in 1977.

ARCO’s attorney Robert Cameron told the jury during closing arguments that afternoon that subsidence – while it did occur – wasn’t responsible for the damage to the building. He noted that surface subsidence happened 40 years ago and only caused the building to shift about 2 feet.

“The amount of tilt is not even visible to the naked eye,” he said.

Cameron also brought in experts that testified the damage may have been caused by leaks in Butte’s water system, and the attorney suggested the cracks may have been caused by construction of the neighboring Butte High School parking lot.

“Common sense tells us the subsidence didn’t cause damage to the building,” Cameron told the jury.

But Barile’s attorney Wade Dahood contended that subsidence was the sole cause of the damage and that engineers described the building as a “dead building walking” that would eventually be damaged beyond repair. He described ARCO to the jury as a large corporation that wasn’t willing to take responsibility or negotiate with Barile.

“If they’re not going to be fair with Jody, they’re not going to be fair to anybody,” Dahood said.

Dahood said Barile had hoped to be awarded enough money in the lawsuit to allow her to build or refurbish a building elsewhere in Butte and have her tenants relocate there.

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