Dismissal Over Deadly TVA Fishing Accident Reversed

The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded a 2013 case for further proceedings where a bass fishing tournament angler was killed and another severely injured when TVA crews were working to raise a conductor and power line that had dipped into the water during a project on the river near Decatur, Ala.

Gary Thacker was fishing in a bass tournament with friend Anthony Szozda on July 30, 2013. Unbeknownst to the duo, a power line had dipped into the water while TVA crews were working. A pulling cable failed during their conductor-replacement project that allowed the line to drop into the water. TVA crews were lifting the conductor out of the water while the bass boat was running to their fishing spot.

The conductor struck both anglers. Szozda was killed instantly, and Thacker received serious injuries.

Thacker’s family sued the TVA for negligence, but the federal judge in the case cited the utility had immunity, and the 11th Circuit affirmed its dismissal. On Monday, April 29, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed unanimously these dismissals in their slip opinion dated the same. 

You can read the full Supreme Court opinion here on the implied immunity granted to the TVA and how this dismissal overstepped the intended effect of the immunity. 

“If the conduct is commercial — the kind of thing any power company might do — the TVA cannot invoke sovereign immunity,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the opinion. “Only if the conduct at issue is governmental might the court decide that an implied limit on the clause bars the suit.”