On any given day, Lake Guntersville is filled with boaters and fishermen. Through the years, I’ve handled numerous personal injury cases involving boat or jet ski crashes on our northern Alabama lakes. Why do I mention Lake Guntersville? It is a huge and beautiful lake created by one of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) dams. Beyond our rivers and lakes, the TVA operates power plants and other facilities across our region. TVA supplies our electricity like any other power company. Over many decades, the TVA fueled economic development in our region.
What happens when the TVA is negligent and an innocent person is hurt or killed? After all, the TVA is a government agency. Does the TVA enjoy the immunities of our government? Does “sovereign immunity” shield the agency from accountability? Can the TVA be held responsible for the damages it causes (just like any other company)?
A recent U.S. Supreme Court case addressed this very issue. What happened? TVA employees were raising a downed power line that had been submerged in the Tennessee River. A man named Gary Thacker drove his boat into the area and hit the power line. Thacker suffered serious personal injuries and his passenger died in the crash. Thacker sued the TVA for his injuries. The local Federal District Court dismissed his case on the grounds of sovereign immunity. The Court of Appeals affirmed that dismissal. Looks like Thacker’s case is over. But, wait! His attorney appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. I’m always impressed by an attorney who will fight for his or her client.