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Milwaukee sewage case returning to court

Attorneys representing a group of Milwaukee residents whose basements flooded during a June 2008 storm want a new trial because of what they say is an invalid verdict.

A jury in September awarded 200 residents almost $1.5 million after a two-week trial during which the group’s attorneys claimed the city of Milwaukee was negligent in inspecting and maintaining its sewage system.

That negligence, the attorneys claimed, caused raw sewage to spill into and damage basements during the storm. The city has estimated the June 7 and 8, 2008, flooding caused about $23 million in damage.

The jury found the city was 37 percent responsible for the damage. The rest, jurors said, was because of negligence by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Veolia Water Milwaukee LLC and its Delaware-based parent firm, all of which settled with the plaintiffs.

The group’s attorneys now are asking Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Christopher Foley, who will hear motions for the case Friday, to order a new trial because disagreements among the jurors invalidated the verdict, according to court papers filed Oct. 16.

There were 14 jurors hearing the case, which, according to court documents, means 12 had to agree on every facet of the ruling. In the sewage case, two jurors did not agree the city’s negligence caused damage, and a third juror did not agree MMSD’s and Veolia’s negligence caused the damage.

Chris Trebatoski, an attorney with Weiss Berzowski Brady LLP who is representing the residents, said it is rare for exceptions to the rule to be made, and the sewage case should not be one of them.

The motion, however, states the verdict “can be saved” if Foley reverses a previous decision he made regarding evidence that showed negligence on MMSD and Veolia’s part. By not including evidence of their negligence, according to the motion, the answers that made the verdict invalid no longer would apply.

Assistant City Attorney Jan Smokowicz, who is defending the case for Milwaukee, said the judge needs to find MMSD and Veolia negligent based on the evidence presented, which would invalidate the third juror’s decision and give the 12 jurors needed to make the verdict valid.

The city also is asking the judge to force the city to pay only 37 percent of the verdict, or about $548,000, because that is the amount of negligence the jury put on the city.

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