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Flooding verdict stalled by cost debate

By: Eric Heisig//February 3, 2014//

Flooding verdict stalled by cost debate

By: Eric Heisig//February 3, 2014//

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A dispute over court costs is stalling a verdict awarding more than $548,000 to 181 Milwaukee residents whose homes were flooded with raw sewage in 2008.

A jury awarded the residents, who live in the city’s Lincoln Creek and Lincoln Park neighborhoods, $1.49 million in September after finding that damage to their homes was caused by the city failing to inspect and maintain the sewage system. The jury found the city only 36.77 percent responsible, however, meaning it was liable for just that portion of the award.

Circuit Judge Christopher Foley signed the judgment Thursday awarding $548,240.70. The plaintiffs also had requested $452,905.92 in attorney’s fees, expert witness fees and other court costs. The final judgment, though, awarded only $27,050.73 for those costs.

Barry White, an attorney with Weiss Berzowski Brady LLP representing the plaintiffs, said he will file a motion this week to object to the discrepancy. He said the biggest difference was caused by the judgment clerk at the Clerk of Court’s office awarding attorneys’ fees for only one plaintiff, instead of 181. So instead of $90,500 in attorney’s fees, he said, attorneys received only $500.

The same theory goes for the expert witness fees. The plaintiffs requested $271,797.32 but were awarded $1,797.32.

A hearing to contest the court costs is set for March 21.

Assistant City Attorney Jan Smokowicz said the costs should stand as the clerk entered them.

“$272,000 is an awful lot of money,” he said. “I would suspect that equals or exceeds what they paid [the experts].”

White said the court costs could be a reason for the plaintiffs to appeal the judgment. That discussion with his clients has not yet taken place, however, he said.

Smokowicz said the city also has not made a decision about whether to appeal.

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Veolia Water Milwaukee LLC and its Delaware-based parent firm also were named as defendants, but they settled for $1.5 million prior to trial. The jury, however, found them to be partially at fault.

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