Berkeley County Sewer District settles lawsuit with homeowners whose basement flooded five times

June 26, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A lawsuit filed in 2010 against the Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District by property owners who said their home was flooded multiple times with raw sewage has been settled, the district’s legal counsel confirmed Wednesday.

The public service district’s insurance provider agreed to pay Dolly Fergus and Rex Fergus $100,000 to settle the case on behalf of the publicly run utility during mediation, attorney William F. Rohrbaugh said in an email.

An order signed by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge John C. Yoder to voluntarily dismiss the case in Berkeley County Circuit Court was filed June 5, according to court documents.

The Ferguses contended that their home at 46 Larkspur Lane was flooded with raw sewage because the sewer district failed to properly function, according to a six-page complaint filed in 2010 by attorney Gregory A. Bailey.

Sewer District General Manager Curtis B. Keller said in an email Wednesday that he didn’t recall all of the allegations that were made, but noted that the main issue with the residence was that it had plumbing fixtures in the basement that were lower than any “cleanouts” or manholes in the surrounding area.

“That meant that anytime a backup or high flow occurred in the line, those plumbing fixtures in the basement were the relief point rather than an outside cleanout or manhole, since it was the lowest point of relief on (the) line,” Keller said.

“The District tried different remedies for the problem that had been successful in other areas, but ultimately ended up with a grinder pump installation that isolated the residence from the gravity collection system,” Keller said.

Bailey said Wednesday that the Ferguses’ finished basement was flooded with stormwater and sewage water at least five times dating back to 2008.

“We think that’s going to be a permanent fix,” Bailey said of the grinder-pump installation.

Bailey’s clients alleged that the sewer district was negligent in its duty to provide the utility service and allowed conditions that constituted a nuisance and illegal trespass, according to court records.

The settlement covers the damage to the property, the period of time the Ferguses lost use of their property, cleanup costs and the annoyance and nuisance caused by the flooding incidents at their home in Laurel Ridge subdivision, which is off W.Va. 9 between Martinsburg and Hedgesville, W.Va., Bailey said. 

The settlement does not cover future flooding, but Bailey said the most gratifying part of the resolution in the case is his clients’ belief that the problem has been remedied and that they will be able to enjoy their home for the rest of the time they reside there.

There have been no flooding since the grinder pump was installed, Bailey said.

Keller said the district now reviews development plans more closely and looks at manhole rim elevations and finished floor elevations — when provided — to see if an obvious problem exists.

“However, plans get changed through the building permit process that may result in potential problems, especially when basement-level plumbing is installed, either for current use or future use,” Keller said.

Keller said the sewer district does its best to prevent problems and corrects them when they do.

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