Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Couple moves plant pollution case out of Allegheny County

Pollution laws are numerous and strict in the U.S. At the same time, just because the odor from a nearby Allegheny County factory is unpleasant doesn't mean the air is toxic. Sometimes it takes an entire community to raise a stink in a premises liability claim.

In Fayette County south of Pittsburgh, a Masontown couple is hoping a Common Pleas judge approves a class action lawsuit against Allegheny Energy Supply Co. The company owned a plant in Hatfield's Ferry, Greene County, on the other side of the Monongahela River from Masontown.

The plaintiffs claim coal-fired emissions damaged the properties of residents living within a 2-mile radius of the plant, including the couple's property. With class-action approval, the numbers of plaintiffs could swell to 1,500.

According to the complaint, the plant belched out a dangerous mix of pollutants like sulfuric acid, fly ash and copper compounds while it was still in operation. The facility closed in fall. Plant officials claimed more than $700 million was spent on environmental safeguards at the facility five years ago.

The lawsuit focuses on community-wide property damage caused by "trespassing" emissions. The claim also alleges negligence and accuses the plant owners of creating a public nuisance. Punitive as well as compensatory damages are sought.

This was the second time the Masontown couple filed a case against the defendant. The same allegations were made in a federal lawsuit filed last summer. The plaintiffs withdrew the case in November and tried, without success, to mediate a settlement with the defendant the following month.

A public nuisance accusation is often hard to prove since everyone must suffer from the alleged dangerous conditions, not just certain individuals. To be a public nuisance, the offense also must cause a "common injury."

Juries are left to define what constitutes "unreasonable interference" for a group of plaintiffs, who may have markedly different opinions about public inconvenience or discomfort.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Lawsuit filed over emissions at Greene power plant" Rich Cholodofsky, Feb. 06, 2014

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