Tonawanda News — Lippes said the mass tort suit is in the discovery stage, meaning that the two sides are exchanging evidence and subpoenaing information.
“There was certain material Tonawanda Coke didn’t want to disclose until after the criminal trial because of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination,” Lippes said. “The phase will now move forward now that the sentencing is complete.”
The two sides still have to conduct depositions, which will include questioning of all the plaintiffs. Lippes’ team and Tonawanda Coke, which is being represented by Hodgson Russ, will then exchange expert reports, have a trial date set and negotiate a potential settlement.
“There haven’t been any settlement talks to date,” Lippes said. “There still is a while to go.”
A class action suit against the plant is also pending. Unlike a mass tort suit, in which each plaintiffs’ case is considered separately, a class action suit involves one or several people seeking compensation for a large group. The class must be certified before the suit can move forward.
“Members of the class action suit don’t have their separate day in court,” Lippes explained.
Government investigations of the plant are still ongoing, as well. Tonawanda Coke has recently received two notices of violation from the state Department of Environmental Conservation following an explosion in January that injured three workers. The DEC is “continuing to investigate and evaluate enforcement options” in relation to those violations.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are also investigating the incident.
Officials admitted that despite Wednesday’s criminal victory, the ongoing monitoring of the plant remains a challenge. But prosecutors said the five-year term of probation will aid governmental agencies in their inspections, and EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck said her office is committed to protecting the community’s health.
“There’s still more work to be done. This is an important chapter, but the book is not completely written and we have to keep protecting the public’s health,” she said following the sentencing. “We are committed to cleaning the place up.”
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.