GENEVA – A local couple awarded more than $42 million in damages related to Geneva smelter contamination earlier this year will receive significantly less money after city lawyers in the case objected to the decision, indicate court documents.
At the September 7 city council meeting, members passed a resolution approving a settlement in the matter Powers v. City of Geneva. In the case, Todd and Lindsey Powers of Wadsworth Street claimed the city knew or should have known that vacant land sold to them was contaminated with lead caused by emissions from the old Geneva smelter, which ran on Jackson Street from 1868 to 1988.
However, the city did not release a settlement figure as part of the resolution and later denied a request from the Time for the document under the state Freedom of Information Act. In its denial of the FOIL request, the city said there were “no records meeting this request.”
And, in the refusal of an appeal of this decision by the Time On Monday, City Attorney Emil Bove said again that he had “investigated this matter and determined that there was no matching document.”
In a follow-up email after the Time Asked why a publicly approved document was not subject to disclosure, Bove said “customer communications are not subject to FOIL.”
Steve Williams, a partner at Smith Sovik, the Syracuse law firm that represented the powers, said the parties had agreed not to disclose the amount of the settlement.
However, court documents related to the case appear to put the figure at $3 million. The figure is mentioned in a letter dated September 1 that Williams sent to Ontario County State Supreme Court Judge Craig Doran, who presided over the case.
“I have advised opposing counsel, Ed Carni (of Hancock Estabrook, the city attorneys in the case), that I recommend my clients accept the $3 million you recommended as a settlement figure. if offered,” Williams wrote to Doran. “I wouldn’t recommend anything less than that amount.”
The $3 million figure is also referenced in court documents related to a monetary dispute between Brady O’Malley, a former Smith Sovik lawyer who previously represented the Powers. O’Malley, who now works for a law firm in New York, is seeking a piece of the law firm’s part in the settlement. This case is also before Doran in the state Supreme Court.
The settlement will not be paid by the city. Instead, it will exit the state’s environmental restoration program. The State is also responsible for cleaning up contaminated properties in the area of the Geneva foundry.
Challenging the $42 million award and also suggesting a new trial, city attorneys argued in court papers that the jury “returned a clearly punitive and grossly excessive verdict…in this trial alleging damages for negligent misrepresentation”.
City attorneys cited numerous cases related to lead poisoning in children and adults, with rewards for pain and suffering well below what Todd Powers was to receive, and that the injuries from the lead toxicity “were far more harmful” than those he suffered. Lawyers also pointed to various instances of jury awards in personal injury cases that various courts have significantly reduced.
The Powers sued the city and former city manager Matt Horn in 2019. In February 2020, Rochester State Supreme Court Justice Charles Schiano Jr. removed Horn as a defendant and dismissed seven of the eight causes of action. This left the cause of negligence against the city in which the jury had sided with the powers.