Friday, July 18, 2003

Paducah nuke plant lawsuit is dismissed

Judge: Liability limited by Ky., U.S. law

The Associated Press

PADUCAH, Ky. - A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking more than $10 billion for Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant workers who say they suffered emotional distress and potential medical expenses because of exposure to radioactive materials and chemical contamination.

In a 16-page ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley concluded that the plant operators were covered under the Price-Anderson Act, approved by Congress in 1957, that limits the liability of private operators of nuclear facilities "in the event of a nuclear incident."

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Paducah on Sept. 3, 1999, sought damages for as many as 10,000 people who have worked at the plant since it opened 50 years ago.

Ruling to be reviewed

The suit is separate from a whistleblower suit filed in June 1998 by workers who claim former plant operator Lockheed Martin Corp. filed false documents to cover up contamination at the plant.

The U.S. Department of Justice has joined in that suit, which seeks to recover more than $100 million the federal government paid to Lockheed based on claims that the reports filed were false.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati will be asked to review McKinley's ruling.

"We've done a lot of work and research in the case and think the workers and their families have a claim," said Mark Bryant, a Paducah attorney for the workers. "We aren't ready to give up."

Bryant told the Paducah Sun that he hadn't read McKinley's ruling, which was a summary judgment based on motions by former plant operators Union Carbide Corp. and Lockheed Martin and by General Electric Co., which are accused of shipping contaminated uranium to the plant from 1954 until 1998.

William McMurry of Louisville, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, was traveling and was unavailable for comment.

Gail Rymer, spokeswoman for Lockheed, which operated the plant from 1982 until 1997, said the company was gratified that the suit has been dismissed.

"It is consistent with our belief that the plaintiffs' claims had no basis," she said. "Lockheed Martin operations have never had any adverse impact on the community."

McKinley also based his dismissal on recent rulings by the Kentucky Supreme Court that said a company may not be held liable for emotional distress from exposure to toxic substances even if the exposure was a result of negligence.

Physical injury

To recover damages "requires a plaintiff to show some present physical injury," the judge wrote in his ruling.

The suit claimed that some workers suffered "chromosomal damage" from the exposure, but the judge quoted previous court rulings that said "chromosomal damage ... does not constitute a present physical injury."

McKinley delayed his ruling while waiting for one Kentucky Supreme Court ruling.

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