COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A U.S. District Court jury on Friday awarded a Stewart County couple $135.5 million Friday afternoon for damage done to their property by a Tennessee solar company and its contractor, according to Columbus attorney James E. Butler of Butler Prather LLP.
The jury hit Silicon Ranch Corp. and its contractor, IEA Inc., for intentionally polluting property owned by Shaun and Amie Harris, the plaintiffs. The case was tried in front of Judge Clay Land.
Silicon Ranch Corp. has developed more than 160 solar panel facilities across the country, many of them built by IEA. This case involved one in Stewart County, Ga., called “Lumpkin solar.” Silicon Ranch and IEA cleared and mass graded about 1,000 acres without first installing adequate erosion and sediment control measures.
“That was the main problem with the Lumpkin site,” Butler said in a news release announcing the verdict. “For two years SRC and IEA failed to stabilize and vegetate almost a thousand acres they had mass graded – which was breaking the law.”
The jury returned a compensatory damages verdict of $10.5 million. The trial went to a punitive phase where the jury considered an amount that would punish the companies for their actions.
In its second verdict the jury found that SRC and IEA, and an IEA subsidiary called “IEA Constructors, LLC”, acted with the specific intent to cause harm. The jury imposed $25 million in punitive damages against SRC, $50 million in punitive damages against IEA Inc., and $50 million against IEA’s wholly-owned subsidiary IEA Constructors, LLC, according to a news release from Butler Prather.
The engineering firm that designed the erosion and sediment control plan for SRC and IEA, Westwood Professional Services, Inc., was also a defendant. The jury released Westwood from any liability, according to Butler Prather.
“The SRC/IEA litigation and trial strategy was to blame everyone else and deny responsibility,” said plaintiffs’ counsel, Dan Philyaw. “They blamed Westwood, they blamed Shaun and Amie, they blamed too much rain, and they blamed ‘erodible soils.’”
Butler summed up the case this way: “Meanness is not neighborly,” Butler said in summarizing the case, “and it is a terrible litigation and trial strategy.”