Let’s assume that Oswego’s Nuclear Power Plant suddenly broke down and started spewing out dangerous radioactivity, just like in Japan. Let’s assume your family ended up sick, or dead, and that you had to move out of your home — forever — and that its market value was reduced to zero dollars. Can you sue the Power Plant owner? If so, for how much?
Well, I’ve got some bad news for you. Even though under New York common law principles you would be able to sue the power company for every penny of compensation you were entitled to for all those catastrophic losses, a not-well-known federal law trumps New York law, and would probably force you to accept pennies for every dollar you would otherwise be entitled to.
The law is called the Price-Anderson Act of 1957, and it places a damages cap on the liability of nuclear power plant owners or operators. Under this Act, the power plant owners or operators pay an insurance premium each year to create a kind of “no-fault” system for paying damages caused by nuclear accidents. The total payout available from the fund for personal injury and property loss for nuclear accidents amounts to only about $13 billion.
I say “only” because that’s such a small amount of money considering the devastating, widespread catastrophic damages a nuclear disaster would unleash to hundreds of thousands of our local central New York residents and businesses. In fact, the damages that would result from a major nuclear catastrophe are estimated at more like $500 billion.
The stated intent of the Price-Anderson Act was to foster commercial development of nuclear power. But what ever happened to the free market system? Why shouldn’t big power companies have to pay full dollar for catastrophes that, through their negligence, they unleash? The Act, which seems to me extremely unfair, survived a constitutional challenge in 1978 in Duke Power Co. v Carolina Environment Study Group
Who pays the price for this generous “gift” our federal government gave to the power industry? You do, of course. Should, god forbid, our local nuclear power company, through its negligence or carelessness, unleash a Japan-like disaster, none of us will get anything even close to true justice. We will be stuck with the pennies-on-a-dollar compensation provided for in the Price-Anderson Act. And as a Central New York personal injury lawyer, that both offends and scares me . . . .
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!
Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
Central NY Personal Injury Lawyer Michaels & Smolak, P.C.