Gaylord, A.O. Smith join to sue Army Corps, Weather Service

Negligence lawsuit prompted by historic May 2010 flood

Hotel and resort operator Gaylord Entertainment and Ashland City-based manufacturer A.O. Smith on Monday filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Nashville accusing the United States government of negligence and other wrongs for its role in exacerbating the damage wrought by Mother Nature in the May 2010 floods.

“It is a simple fact that we incurred millions of dollars in damages because the Corps released so much water into the Cumberland River that it rose above the 100-year flood plain,” said Brian Abrahamson, Gaylord’s vice president of corporate communications, in a statement.

Abrahamson reiterated statements Gaylord officials had made in prior days to local media and said the hotel conglomerate had a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders to try to recover the losses sustained by the alleged negligence. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service — as agencies of the U.S. Government — are named as accused in Monday's complaint. The nearly 60-page delineation of the many facets of this case makes the argument that the actions of the Corps and the Weather Service made matters worse than the rains alone.

Local attorney Bob Patterson of the Nashville office of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings is overseeing the legal proceedings and is representing A.O. Smith and Gaylord, including the hotel’s various corporate subsidiaries.

More specifically, the lawsuit focuses on the Corps' operation of Old Hickory Dam and its alleged negligence in allowing more water than necessary through the dam. That made the flooding worse than it had to be, according to the complaint.

Gaylord and A.O. Smith had to wait a bit before proceeding legally. The 1946 Federal Tort Claims Act governs all suits against the federal government and the plaintiffs needed to approach the Corps and Weather Service individually before proceeding with the current filing. Sources say that hurdle has been cleared as six months have passed since the agencies turned away the companies.

Monday's filing has been on the minds of Gaylord officials for a while. In June 2010, Gaylord announced layoffs and postulated it might purse some element of legal action given the huge cleanup and restoration cost to the company caused by the flooding. Click here for the NashvillePost.com’s coverage of that story.

Gaylord and A.O. Smith are asking the court to award the damages along with the customary attorneys’ fees and court costs.