Jury awards $73 million to families damaged by sewage spill

by Jay Pate

More than 10 million gallons of sewage and wastewater was pumped into three creeks in October 2006 during an upgrade of sewage lagoons for the town of Mill Creek, Oklahoma. Families who owned land in the area filed a lawsuit alleging that the sewage discharge contaminated their land and several creeks. The families relied upon the creeks and streams for their household water supply as well as recreational and aesthetic uses. Some of the landowners in the lawsuit alleged that they had to move off their property because their sole source of household water was Mill Creek.

A jury has now agreed with the families and awarded $13 million in actual damages and $60 million in punitive damages against two companies involved in the project. The two defendant companies, Oklahoma-based Mehlburger Brawley Inc. and Arkansas-based B3 Inc., failed to show up for the trial. Long before the case went to trial, the affected landowners had reached a settlement with the town’s public works authority.

B3, an excavation and construction company, and NRS Consulting Engineers, a unit of Mehlburger Brawley Inc., were the contractors on the project. During the lagoon project, Oklahoma state officials issued the town a notice of violation that pumping by B3 exceeded the amount of wastewater that could be legally discharged into a tributary of Mill Creek.

Mehlburger Brawley Inc. apparently fired its attorneys at a settlement conference only weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin. The assets of the engineering firm were apparently sold in January but liability for the pending lawsuit was not sold. Attorneys for the plaintiffs have said it appears Mehlburger Brawley Inc. is trying to avoid having to pay the families by selling its assets to the new company. Lawyers for the families will nonetheless attempt to collect the money recently awarded by the jury.

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