Residents and landowners affected by a 2014 formaldehyde spill in Roanoke County have dropped a chemical company from their multimillion-dollar lawsuit, leaving a truck driver and trucking company as defendants, court papers said.
The negligence lawsuit arose from the release of what state environmental officials said was 4,434 gallons of embalming fluid in a June 11, 2014 wreck on Jae Valley Road.
Christopher and Susan Sheldon had a farm and home on nearby Carr Rouse Road, on land owned by Robert and Sandra Sheldon of New Hampshire, the suit said.
The Sheldon homestead and land suffered significant damage, the suit said. The plaintiffs lost use of the property, livestock and crops and a means to produce income; incurred remediation expenses; and suffered emotional and physical injuries, according to the suit, which was filed in 2016.
The suit asks for $2 million per plaintiff on each of six causes of action including negligence, creating a nuisance and trespassing.
The liquid spilled was concentrated embalming fluid consisting of formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol and water, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality said. All of the release percolated into the soil on the Sheldon property, the suit said.
Nichols Transport Co., the South Carolina trucking company that owned the vehicle and employed its driver, previously agreed to set up and maintain alternate water systems for homes with affected wells, including the Sheldon property’s well. A soil-aeration system was brought in and temporarily placed in operation.
The company was not fined, but entered into a consent order for discharging a hazardous waste during transportation. In response to the suit, the company wrote in court papers, “The plaintiffs have suffered no damages as a result of any act or omission by Nichols Transport.”
Driver David Howard Bennett, 61 at the time of the incident, also filed a denial to the lawsuit’s allegations against him. He earlier pleaded guilty to disobeying highway signs and failing to maintain control of his vehicle. A judge fined him $1,250, court papers said.
On May 8, the Sheldons dropped all allegations against Chemsolv Inc., the Roanoke chemical company that was the truck’s destination. That action left all parties to the litigation in different states; on that basis, Nichols Transport transferred the suit from Roanoke Circuit Court to Roanoke federal court for further proceedings May 28, court papers said. The Sheldons told the court they’re reserving their right to fight the transfer. It wasn’t clear why the case was filed in city court.
Nichols Transport said in court papers that the suit erroneously accused Nichols Transport and Chemsolv of directing the driver to use the route to where the crash occurred. Due to the twisting nature of the Windy Gap area, portions of Jae Valley Road are marked off-limits to through-traffic trucks over 28 feet long. In fact, the transport company told the court that it had delineated the trip to Chemsolv in the Nichols Transport “route book,” but Bennett didn’t take it.
Bennett’s attorney could not be reached for comment Friday.
No trial date has been set.