By BRETT BARROUQUERE
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – A federal judge has approved a $1.4 million class-action settlement between Kentucky landowners and Sprint Communications, which laid fiber-optic cable on railroad rights of way on their property.
U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell set a fairness hearing in the case for June 18 at the federal court in Louisville. Attorneys in the case will receive $565,000.
The settlement stems from a lawsuit filed in June in federal court in Louisville by multiple landowners accusing Sprint and Qwest Communications of trespassing on their property, digging up the ground and putting the cables in without permission.
The settlement, approved Friday, is similar to deals reached in 46 states where landowners sued Sprint over access to rights of way. Other settlements ranged from $3.1 million in Wisconsin to $5.4 million in Pennsylvania.
The landowners accused Sprint of installing fiber-optic cable systems in railroad rights of way under agreements with the railroads possessing those rights. The landowners say Sprint did not notify them that the cables were being installed.
The landowners in the Kentucky case and other similar lawsuits across the country alleged that the railroads did not have the right to authorize the installation of fiber-optic cable systems.
As part of the settlement, landowners will receive compensation for both current and future damage to their property. In exchange, the telecommunications companies will get a release clearing them of any legal issues arising from the installation and operation of the cables.
The landowners will also convey an easement that gives the companies the right to access the land in the future without dispute.
The case started out as a national class-action lawsuit based in Illinois. But, after nine years of negotiations and failed settlement talks, the parties agreed to settle the cases on a state-by-state basis.
A Sprint spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge said the company has been involved in multiple lawsuits over the right-of-way issue and has settled them state-by-state.
“While Sprint continues to believe that the railroads have the right to authorize telecommunications companies to use their right-of-ways, we also are interested in bringing this long-pending litigation to an end,” Vinge said.