Originally created 02/11/00

Firm: 162 plaintiffs should be dropped



Most residents suing a former wood treating company should be dismissed from the lawsuit because there is no evidence their properties were contaminated by toxic chemicals, a company lawyer argued Thursday.

David Sapp, representing Southern Wood Piedmont Co., told U.S. District Judge Dudley Bowen the 9-year-old case involves owners of 198 properties who claim wood-treating chemicals entered and devalued their homes.

The plaintiffs, represented by Bill McCracken and Harry James, are seeking millions of dollars in damages on claims that chemicals from the defunct wood-preserving plant on Nixon Road migrated into Hyde Park subdivision.

Mr. Sapp argued there is no direct evidence or samples to document contamination on 162 of those properties -- and, therefore, those plaintiffs should be removed from the case.

"Our position is, without any samples showing the presence of contamination, a trespass claim cannot be asserted," Mr. Sapp told Judge Bowen.

On the remaining 36 properties where documentation is available, the issue would still be whether the contamination came from Southern Wood or other sources in the Hyde Park area, Mr. Sapp said.

Mr. McCracken asked Judge Bowen not to remove the 162 properties from the lawsuit, contending that a nuisance exists throughout Hyde Park regardless of whether individual lots have samples showing contamination.

Georgia's nuisance law, he added, is liberal in its definition of impact, meaning any contaminated property in Hyde Park can reasonably be defined as a nuisance to all nearby owners, Mr. McCracken said.

The presence of wood-treating chemicals in the area, he added, is well-documented by geologists and medical experts.

Therefore, he added, the presence of any contamination in the neighborhood is a threat to all, regardless of how many samples exist from individual lots.

Hyde Park residents have endured the pain and suffering of not being able to enjoy their properties, Mr. McCracken said.

Southern Wood contends the wood-treating factory did not have an impact on Hyde Park and that contamination detected in various studies came from other sources.

Mr. Sapp noted that a task force appointed in 1991 by the governor's office concluded in 1996 that ditches in Hyde Park were contaminated with lead and PCBs. Those chemicals, however, were linked to nearby scrap metal yards, not Southern Wood, he said, quoting the task force report.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.