In Depth: Understanding the lawsuit filed by family members killed in the Waverly Flood

Waverly Lawsuit
Posted at 4:40 PM, Apr 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-06 19:34:18-04

WAVERLY, Tenn. (WTVF) — This week, attorneys — representing 10 families who lost 11 loved ones in the Waverly flood — filed a $450 million dollar lawsuit.

It was a move many expected.

"I feel the railroad is responsible and should be held accountable for that tragedy," said Tracy Kilburn, who lost her husband in the flood.

Lawyers allege CSX's train line created an unintentional levy, but when culverts became clogged with debris, the levy broke and unleashed a wall of water.

"It happened so fast, and there was no way of us getting out," said Kilburn.

But here's what wasn't expected — along with CSX, landowners James and Sherry Hughey were also named in the suit. The lawsuit alleged they were negligent for not warning emergency responders about the rising water behind the train berm and for allowing CSX to store debris on their land. That debris later clogged the culverts.

"So the standard’s going to be, what would an ordinary, reasonable, prudent person have done in these set of circumstances?" questioned Nick Leonardo, NewsChannel 5's Legal Analyst.

Leonardo said the case will hinge on that standard: what would a reasonable person do in a similar situation? There are a lot of factors the courts will have to consider.

"And when you’re dealing with something that happened in a matter of a few hours, what notice did everyone have? And the prerequisite also is — what notice? Did they have any notice that it was going to be this bad?" Leonardo said.

Leonardo said the more significant reason why the Hugheys may be named in the lawsuit is that their involvement could be a key piece of evidence against CSX.

"They have to have the Hugheys, from the perspective of this lawsuit, because that is what makes the plaintiffs case that strong, or stronger against CSX, and also serves to keep CSX in the litigation," he said.

So, in other words, without the Hugheys named in the lawsuit, these families may not have as strong of a case.

"They’re an indispensable party," said Leonardo. "So the plaintiffs had to bring them in, from my perspective, to really keep CSX on the hook."

Some of you may be wondering, with culverts in your yard, could you find yourself in a similar situation? Leonardo says you would be held to the same standard in negligence cases: what would a reasonable person do in a similar situation?