Friday, December 01, 2000

Spill blamed on 'an act of God'

Coal company denies responsibility

The Associated Press

        INEZ, Ky. — Attorneys claim in court documents that the spill of 250 million gallons of coal sludge in rural eastern Kentucky was an act of God.

        Martin County Coal Corp. President Dennis Hatfield assured Martin County residents during five public meetings that he understood there would be an “accounting” for the Oct. 11 disaster — the nation's largest black-water spill — and that his company had adequate liability insurance to cover any damage.

        But the company's formal response Wednesday to the first of six civil lawsuits filed against it struck a defensive posture.

        The company claims that the sludge spill “was the direct, sole and proximate result of an act of God, the occurrence of which was not within the control of Martin County Coal.”

        The company also asked a Martin Circuit Court judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

        Company attorney Jeff A. Woods of Lexington declined to comment.

        Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of eight Coldwater Creek couples, said he was amazed.

        “It's disingenuous. On one hand, they're making public apologies and accepting the blame,” he said. “On the other hand, they're filing legal responses with this absurd and frivolous defense.”

        “Act of God” is a legal phrase describing natural phenomena such as storms, meteors, tornadoes and earthquakes that damage property.


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