TVA ratepayers may pay contractor’s legal bills in coal ash lawsuit

After unsuccessfully using the Tennessee Valley Authority as a legal shield, a global government contractor accused of fatally endangering workers at the site of the nation’s largest coal ash disaster wants TVA ratepayers to pay its legal bills, according to court records reviewed for a News Sentinel report.

So far, TVA hasn’t said no, and officials from the nation’s largest electricity provider have been meeting with Jacobs Engineering representatives even as that firm seeks to lay blame for sickened workers at TVA’s feet in a pending federal lawsuit, those records show.

TVA hired Jacobs, a California engineering firm with billions in annual revenue from government contracts and a history of safety-related lawsuits, to supervise the cleanup of the utility’s massive coal ash spill when one of its dikes gave way in December 2008 at the TVA Kingston Fossil Fuel Power Plant in Roane County.

Having lost that battle, Jacobs’ two law firms — which are among the most expensive and best skilled law firms in the country — are now using TVA to slow down efforts by the workers’ lawyers to get records to help their case and have filed notice they’ll be blaming TVA should a jury rule against them and award damages.

TVA, which has repeatedly refused to answer questions about treatment of the workers and its relationship with Jacobs in the cleanup, told the firm it wanted to take a wait-and-see approach before paying Jacobs’ legal bills.

“At this juncture, we believe it is premature to conclude that TVA has an indemnification obligation to Jacobs with regard to the lawsuit in question,” TVA contract manager Louis Smythe wrote in a letter.

Smythe wrote that Bob Deacy, who was the construction manager at the cleanup site for TVA, planned to meet with Jacobs about the legal action. A follow-up letter by Jacobs indicated the issue of its legal bills has not yet been decided.

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