The city of Columbus was awarded $3.4 million Tuesday for its share of punitive damages in its lawsuit against a Phenix City plant.
“Absolutely, we are excited. It moved so fast,” City Manager Isaiah Hugley said Tuesday after the city was wired $3,462,255.68. “We just signed the documents yesterday. Money has been wire transferred today.”
The city of Columbus, local boat dealer John Tharpe and south Columbus resident Owen Ditchfield won their suit against Continental Carbon in 2004. They had said their homes, businesses and buildings had been damaged by carbon black dust emitted from the plant.
The city was awarded $570,000 in compensation, Tharpe received a $100,000 personal award and $1.2 million for his Action Marine business, and Ditchfield was awarded $45,000 plus interest, but the punitive damages were appealed. On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected all appeals of the $17.5 million in punitive damages, clearing the way for Tuesday’s release of the money.
Punitive damages to private individuals are not public record. Ditchfield wouldn’t comment on his award but felt relieved for Tharpe. “I’m so happy for John Tharpe, who got the lion’s share of the punitive damages for what he has been through. This guy deserves every penny he gets.”
Tharpe was not available for comment.
Rhon Jones, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys at Beasley Allen law firm in Montgomery, Ala., hopes something good will come out of the suit for the community.
“We are pleased that it is over, but not just for our firm, but for the residents and Continental Carbon,” he said. “We hope they will be better corporate neighbors because of this. That was the whole idea.”
The city manager said the city already has taken care of cleaning the roof of the Civic Center. “We have had it cleaned several times since we’ve been going through this ordeal,” he said.
One possible use of the money is buying costly fuel, Hugley said. With escalating fuel prices, he said the money would be available if needed.