SW Legal studies in Business

Mine Blasting Causes Property Damage, Not Mental Distress

Alabama high court held that property owners who lived near a coal mine that engaged in blasting could recover for damage to their houses and reduction in property value, but they could not recover for mental distress as there was no threat of bodily harm.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Negligence, Property Damage; Mental Distress; Damages; Mine Blast

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Birmingham Coal operated a surface coal mine. Its operation required blasting work. A group of people who lived near the mine sued Birmingham claiming damage to their houses from vibrations from the blasting. They claimed Birmingham was negligent in its abnormally dangerous activities. The trial court held for plaintiffs on the negligence claim and awarded compensatory damages based on the cost to repair each house and the reduction in property value. The court also awarded damages for mental distress equal in sum to the property-damages award. Birmingham appealed.


Affirmed in part, reversed in part. Evidence that the mine’s blasting activity was conducted according to state regulations did not mean that it was not an abnormally dangerous activity. Evidence supported the conclusion that the nearby homes were damaged by the blasting operations. The proper measure of compensatory damage is the difference in fair market between the fair market value of the property before and after the damage. However, award for mental distress was improper. There was no immediate risk of physical harm to the homeowners and none suffered physical injury as all were at least a half-mile away, so that tort did not occur.


Birmingham Coal & Coke Co. v. Johnson, ---So.2d--- (2008 WL 5105458, Sup. Ct., Ala., 2008)

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