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Litigation begins bubbling up

ImageMore than $93 million in state and federal disaster assistance has been approved for summer flooding in Wisconsin.

Now more than 100 homeowners in Brown Deer and Mequon are seeking financial relief from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), Veolia Water Milwaukee and the municipalities.

Milwaukee attorney Victor C. Harding recently filed a notice of injury that alleged faulty sanitary equipment within a sewer chamber on the 9200 block of North Green Bay Road directly led to several inches of sewage leaking into homes in the area during heavy rains on June 7-8.

Harding, of the Warshafsky law firm, is working with Detroit-based Macuga, Liddle & Dubin, P.C., and estimated that total damages could reach to $3.5 million to $4 million, based on the outcomes of similar cases handled by the firm.

“If you have six inches of sewage in a finished basement, which most of these people did, it’s going to be in the neighborhood of $35,000 to $40,000 in damage,” said Harding, who added that a class action suit is likely.

“Multiply that by 100 and you could be looking at several million dollars.”

MMSD spokesperson Bill Graffin said the organization is investigating when and why the gates malfunctioned, but he maintains that the flooding was caused by the “100-year storm.”

Graffin suggested that the gates could have closed because of a lightning strike, power surge or power failure. He also pointed to the severity of the storms, which pounded the southeastern part of the state, as the primary reason for the flooding and said residents reported backups prior to the time MMSD lost contact with the sewer chamber.

But attorney David R. Dubin of Macuga argued that rainfall total in the affected areas was less than that of surrounding municipalities and it took Veolia 15 hours to respond to the situation.

Veolia communications director Joyce Harms declined to comment on the response time, other than to say basement backups had been reported prior to the gate closures.

According to the National Weather Service, much of Ozaukee County received between three and five inches of rainfall during June 7-8 storms, compared to 7.18 inches in Milwaukee.

“From documents I’ve seen, it was communicated to the district that there was a problem at 9:30 p.m. and for some reason no effort was made to investigate what was going on,” said Dubin. “Let them come up with their own reason as to why nothing happened for quite awhile.”

Graffin conceded that Brown Deer received basement back up calls around 10 p.m. and MMSD lost communication with the gate system at central control around 11:40 p.m. on June 7.

“That doesn’t mean the gates were closed,” said Graffin.

Harding did not specify when notice of claim for damages will be filed and that he is in the process of collecting documents, receipts, photos and estimates for the record.

Dubin said his firm has represented clients nationally in similar cases throughout the last decade. He noted that many of these types of cases get resolved with a settlement.

“Every case is different, but most do resolve themselves for homeowners,” said Dubin.

“Tales of sewage is not something a lot of people want before a jury.”

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