A recent ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana ordered the Bossier Parish Police Jury to repair the pipes running under the land that the plaintiffs, Steven and Melanie Petchak, own in Bossier Parish. It was also ordered to pay damages to the plaintiffs for damage to their house.
Mr. and Mrs. Petchak bought Lot 363, which was part of a subdivision plat (Subdivision No. 5), in 1994. In the conveyance records for Subdivision No. 5, several drainage easements, or rights of way, were referenced. These included a 25-foot easement running north to south and a 10-foot easement running east to west. The 10-foot easement extended 5 feet into the Petchaks’ lot. In 1978, the Bossier parish Police Jury had enacted a resolution which agreed to maintain the drainage facilities of Subdivision No. 5. Additionally, Ordinance 509 of Bossier Parish stated that the Police Jury were to forever have a right of way in order to maintain the drainage channels, and that no buildings were to be erected on the right of way.
The house that the Petchaks bought was built between 1983 and 1985, and the Petchaks purchased the home in 1994. They soon noticed a sinkhole developing on their property, and found out that the previous owner had noticed a different sinkhole, in a different place. The previous owner had called the Police Jury, who filled in the sinkhole twice, first with dirt and later with concrete. The Petchaks called the Police Jury about the new sinkhole, which was then filled in with dirt.
Ten years later, in 2005, the Petchaks began to notice problems with their home, including broken windows, sticking doors, and damaged flooring, walls, and woodwork, which were concentrated at the part of the house closest to the sinkholes. A new sinkhole appeared, and the Petchaks hired a civil engineer to inspect the house, who recommended that the drainage system be repaired before attempting to repair the home’s foundation.
In January 2006, the parish engineer offered to fix the drainage system, but only if the Petchaks would agree to sign a release for any past and future damages associated with the problem, which the Petchaks refused to do.
After more investigation, it was discovered that the pipe was not constructed in accordance with good engineering practices. Despite the pipe changing direction, the parish had not installed junction boxes, which would have stabilized the joint and prevented the separation of the concrete. Because the pipe did not contain any junction boxes, experts believed that either water was escaping or dirt was infiltrating in, causing destabilization of the soil around the drain. The drain was likely bedded in a granular fill, which is a quick-to-erode material, instead of the usual clay. All of this together caused a massive loss of support soil from under the foundation of the house and resulted in damage to the house.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeal decided that the recordation of the easement and Ordinance 509 created duties on the part of the Police Jury to maintain the drainage system as well as a burden on the owner of the land to let the Police Jury onto the land when required. Although the suit would not have been allowed if it were a tort suit under sovereign immunity, it was allowed to go forward because it was based on the special relationship between the Petchaks and the Bossier Parish Police Jury created by the easement. The court also pointed out that prospective owners usually do not conduct underground surveys of the condition of the utilities in easements. Additionally, the Petchaks knew that the right of way existed, could see the manhole cover which was evidence of the right of way, and trusted that the easement would not make the condition of their property worse. The court also found that the Police Jury constructively knew of problems with the drainage system by 1992, when the first sinkhole was reported, so it could not at this time claim lack of knowledge.
If your property has suffered damage due to faulty drainage installed by the local government, you may be able to recover for the damage. Call the Berniard Law Firm today toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with a lawyer who can help you.