Arkansas – The mother of a young man who was killed when a 500-ton turbine component fell from a crane at an Entergy nuclear plant can obtain the utility’s internal review of the accident, an Arkansas appeals court ruled earlier this month.
Susan Allen sued Entergy, Siemens Electric and contractor Bigge Power Co. after her 24-year-old son Wade Walters was killed at the Arkansas Nuclear One plant in Russellville in March 2013. Entergy hired Siemens and Bigge to remove a main turbine generator stator and place it on a transport vehicle one story below. A crane collapsed as workers removed a rail that was blocking the movement of the stator and it fell 30 feet, injuring eight workers and killing Walters.
Several of the injured workers including Ronnie Francis sued Entergy and Bigge. As part of its defense, Bigge demanded Entergy’s root-cause analysis of the accident. which the utility sought to protect under the work-product and attorney-client privilege rules. Francis asked to join in Bigge’s request for the document and Entergy opposed that too, saying Francis wasn’t a party to the discovery dispute between Bigge and Entergy.
The trial court rejected Entergy’s arguments and the utility filed an interlocutory appeal to the Arkansas Court of Appeals, which also refused to protect the internal documents. Those documents revealed that Entergy produced two root-cause analyses. The first report in 2013 concluded that the root cause was Bigge’s crane, which couldn’t handle the stator’s weight. The report also cast blame on Siemens for telling Entergy it had successfully used similar equipment in other operations.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission objected to the report so Entergy performed another analysis, this time concluding that its own failure to manage the contractors contributed to the accident.
After Bigge and Francis received the reports, Allen asked the court for them and Entergy objected again, saying the appellate ruling applied to the Francis case. Allen’s lawyers argued the “law of the case” established her right to the document, since Entergy had failed in its privilege and work-product arguments. The trial court ruled Allen could receive the reports.
Entergy filed another interlocutory appeal, which it lost again. While Entergy was correct that the “law of the case” doesn’t apply to another plaintiff’s lawsuit, Allen was still entitled to the evidence. Appellate courts “may affirm a circuit court where it has reached the right decision, albeit for the wrong reason,” the court ruled.
In this case collateral estoppel – “a close cousin of law of the case” – also prevents Entergy from its claims of privilege a second time. Entergy argued the appeals court couldn’t apply collateral estoppel because Allen didn’t include it in her arguments. But the appeals court said she came close enough in her filings and specifically mentioned “issue preclusion,” another term for the same thing, in a court hearing.
“The doctrine of collateral estoppel, which Allen raised below and is supported by the record, bars Entergy from relitigating those claims,” the court ruled.