Neighbors Sue Duke Over Coal Ash Payments That Come With Strings Attached

Aug 23, 2017

Neighbors with contaminated wells near Duke Energy's North Carolina coal ash ponds are suing to halt Duke's demand that they sign away future legal claims in exchange for compensation. 

Duke says it's not responsible for contamination in hundreds of private wells around its coal plants. But state law says it has to provide water filters or public water lines to about 1,000 plant neighbors by late next year.

In January, Duke also offered what it calls cash goodwill payments - but only if homeowners give up the right to sue.  To many well owners, that's not fair.  

Amy Brown lives near Duke coal ash ponds in Gaston County. She signed an agreement, but crossed out the section promising not to sue.

Amy Brown crossed out a section of an agreement with Duke Energy that waives her right to future legal claims.

"We have to agree and say that Duke Energy has fully compensated us ... fully compensated us … and that we will agree not to sue them in the future. So past, present, future issues that may come up. And we feel that that is very wrong," Brown said. 

Brown and eight other coal ash neighbors have filed a class-action suit at Wake County Superior Court.  Their lawyer, John Hughes of Salisbury, says state law bars public utilities from making people sign agreements like these, known as exculpatory clauses.

Duke has offered neighbors payments of $5,000, plus $20,000 or more for future water bills. And it's offering to compensate people for lost property values.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the company says it's customary in agreements like these for people to waive their future legal rights. And it says it's going above and beyond what the law requires.