There was a church on the couple’s property they allowed the Blackey Church to use when their church burned some years ago. Sharon was even featured on a television news story for her generosity.
According to a lawsuit filed in Perry Circuit Court in 2007 and resolved by a jury trial last week, all of this was taken from her when the coal companies operating a mountaintop removal mine behind her home, James River Coal Services and Blue Diamond Holdings, began blasting.
Sharon Caudill declined to comment about the details of the case, but according to the initial complaint filed by the Caudills’ attorney, Adam Collins, the company’s blasting caused damage to the Caudills’ home, a church and surrounding property, and the company had been made aware but failed to stop it.
This all occurred in the months and years leading up to 2007, the year when Sharon and Jerry filed a civil case to try and recover damages from the coal companies.
Last week, on April 12, nearly five years after the Caudills first started noticing the damage to their home, the case closed with a jury trial in which the jury found in favor of the Caudills.
The case involved the Caudills as plaintiffs and James River Coal, Blue Diamond, John Tate and Roy Oakes as defendants, and saw many twists and turns before coming to a close.
According to the complaint, Oakes “plays an integral role in the detonation of high explosives on the … Bear Branch Strip Job,” which is owned by James River Coal and mined by Blue Diamond, now an operation of James River Coal, and that he “has detonated explosives in the near proximity to the Plaintiff’s home, church and surrounding properties,” which caused damage to the Caudills’ home, church and property.
Also according to the complaint, John Tate, the man who handles complaints for Leeco Coal Company, which is also now a James River Coal operation, “assured” the Caudills he would “prevent any future damage” to their home, church and surrounding property from blasting. It states further that Tate “then and there under took the legal duty to prevent any future damage to the Plaintiff’s home, church and surrounding property.”
The complaint alleged that Tate “breached this legal duty… and failed to prevent damages” to the Caudills’ property, and that they suffered additional damages after Tate said he would prevent those damages, which were caused by blasting.
The human resources representative for James River Coal, Danny Sorrells, declined to comment about this case during a telephone conversation on Tuesday.
When this case concluded on April 12, the jury found in favor of the Caudills, but Sharon said she was only awarded a total of $60,000 – $50,000 for physical damages to her property and $10,000 for punitive damages. After lawyer fees are taken from that amount, Sharon said she and her husband would receive about $30,000.
“After the lawyer takes his fees out, we’ll end up with nothing,” Sharon said, adding that she thinks she should have been awarded more from the companies.
She said the amount was “better than nothing,” but that $60,000 wouldn’t even begin to repair the damage to her home and church. She added that the companies continue to blast behind her house, though she admitted that these days the blasts are lower.
“Coal companies are going to do whatever they want to do,” she said.
She said it’s been a long road since the first blast went off and the first cracks began to appear in her house. She’s been called a “tree-hugger,” a term used by some coal industry supporters to demean those who oppose them, and harassed on the online forum Topix after anonymously posting the question, “Do you think it’s right for a coal company to destroy your home and then walk away from it?”
“One person told me, ‘I hope they blow your house to bits,’” she said. “I just think of those people as cruel and immature.”
She said her intention was never to shut down a coal company; her husband and son are both coal miners.
“I’m not a tree-hugger and I’m not against coal,” she said. “I just don’t think [the coal company] should get a slap on the wrist for destroying my home and walking away from it.”
She contends that “fair is fair,” and the company should have repaired the damages they caused to her home and the church. If they had, she said she would not have taken her case to court.
“What they did was literally wrong,” she said. “The way I see it, they stole everything I had.”
She said the experience has changed her view of the justice system and of coal companies.
“[The companies] don’t have any concern for people,” she said. “All they care about is coal.”
The coal company now has 30 days in which to appeal this decision, and Sharon said she believes they will do so. She said she will be ready if they do appeal, saying if the companies damage her new mobile home, she will file another civil suit against them, saying they might “see her in court until the day she dies.”
“I’m a very determined person, and I’m not easily scared,” she said. “They may be big coal companies, but I will always stand up for what’s right.”