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ARTICLE ID 48008

$________ ________ gallons of raw sewage spills on business property - Contamination from raw sewage due to a massive spill allegedly causes severe damages to two buildings - Destruction of distribution business - Cost of clean up - Employees tested for E-Coli infection.

Westchester County

In this toxic tort case, the defendant, a jointly owned regional sewerage board in West Haverstraw, was accused of negligently causing a massive sewerage spill due to its failure to properly maintain deteriorating sewer pipes. Per the investigation of the plaintiff’s counsel, it was alleged that a similar spill/pipe fracture had occurred approximately ten years earlier involving the same sewerage district a mere 12 yards from the scene of the subject spill. The plaintiff maintained that the previous fracture and sewerage spill was also caused by a failure to maintain the old pipes, which were deteriorating and subsequently replace. Interestingly, no damages were claimed in the previous incident.

The plaintiff textile manufacturing and distribution company manufactured shower curtains. The evidence revealed that there had been an easement for the defendant to run a pipe through the plaintiff’s property. On the day of the incident, the defendant was attempting to pump raw sewerage into a fill tank when the pipes fractured, causing them to burst and resulting in the spilling of over ________ gallons of raw sewage. The plaintiff contended that this raw sewage engulfed the plaintiff’s property and ran downhill into both the plaintiff’s shipping department and manufacturing department. The plaintiff maintained that this resulted in a substantial portion of its inventory being covered in several inches of sewage. The plaintiff’s employees were immediately evacuated due to the unbearable nature of the foul odors as well as the undoubtedly dangerous risk to their health. The employees were all referred to a physical exam and tested for E-Coli infection as a precautionary measure. The results of the E-Coli testing were all negative.

Plaintiff’s counsel, following deposition testimony from three of the defendant’s employees, originally sought $________ in out-of-pocket expenses including lost wages for the 30 people who had to be evacuated and the costs of the people responding to the emergency. The defendant, who refused to acknowledge responsibility for the spill, made an extremely nominal pre-trial offer, forcing the case to go to trial. Plaintiff’s counsel moved for summary judgment on liability, which was denied by the judge, who ruled that the defendant’s negligence and/or wrongdoing was a fact question for the jury to decide. The case proceeded to trial with the plaintiff attempting to claim out-of-pocket expenses for the extensive clean up of the sewage spill. It sought reimbursement from the sewage board as well as the municipality of West Haverstraw.

On damages, the plaintiff maintained that it was forced to hire professional waste-removal cleaners, acquire a number of dumpsters to dispose of the hundreds of damaged pallets and boxes of inventory that were contaminated, and pay for the disposal of such. In addition, the plaintiff sought medial expenses for the medical testing of their employees and the clean-up crew. The plaintiff maintained that thousands of dollars were lost and hundreds of packages of shower curtains were destroyed.

The defendants maintained throughout pre-trial depositions that they were not, in fact, responsible for the spill. However; on the morning of the first day of trial, the defendants conceded liability after the plaintiff’s hired experts to testify as to their responsibility for the spill. During closing arguments, the defense conceded only about 1/2 of the damages sought. Plaintiff’s counsel maintains that he presented the jury with a questionnaire during the second half of the trial in regards to the "other damages" sought by the plaintiff company. Plaintiff’s counsel requested that the jury provide answers as to whether or not the plaintiff deserved compensation for the lost wages, medical expenses, cost of clean-up, and the management expenses for the expert who oversaw the crisis and clean-up. The jury returned with a finding that indeed, the plaintiff deserved monetary restitution for all of these expenses except for the expert that managed the crisis.

The trial lasted three days from jury selection to summation. The jury deliberated for approximately two hours, returning with a unanimous vote in favor of the plaintiff for $________ including interest.

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