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Attorneys recommend Milwaukee pay in sewer suit

By: Beth Kevit, [email protected]//June 11, 2014//

Attorneys recommend Milwaukee pay in sewer suit

By: Beth Kevit, [email protected]//June 11, 2014//

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Milwaukee’s attorneys are urging the Common Council to pay almost $1 million rather than appeal a verdict finding the city liable for damage when raw sewage flooded multiple homes in 2008.

Heavy rains caused sewer backups and flooding June 7 and 8, 2008, and, in some cases, led to as much as 4 feet of sewage in homes. According to city estimates, that flooding caused about $23 million in damage throughout Milwaukee.

The flooding and damage led residents to sue the city, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Veolia Water Milwaukee LLC and Veolia’s Delaware-based parent firm in 2009. The MMSD and the Veolia firms settled with the residents in June 2013.

But the city denied it had failed to maintain flap gates and bypass pumps that the residents claimed should have prevented the flooding. In September, a jury decided in favor of the 181 residents who still were involved in the suit. That jury found the city liable for some of the damage.

As a result, Milwaukee is expected to pay $935,722.56, which includes legal and trial fees, according to a June 2 letter attributed to Assistant City Attorney Jan Smokowicz and City Attorney Grant Langley.

The Office of the City Attorney recommended the city pay rather than appeal, despite initial concerns about disagreements among jurors, because the jury members agreed the percentage of negligence assigned to Milwaukee was appropriate, according to the letter.

The jury assigned Milwaukee 36.77 percent of negligence that caused the flooding and assigned the rest to the parties that had settled.

One of the residents’ attorneys, Chris Trebatoski, with Milwaukee-based Weiss Berzowski Brady LLP, initially questioned whether the verdict was valid. Due to the length of the trial, two alternate jurors were allowed to deliberate with the 12-member jury and to vote on the verdicts. But a core of 12 jurors did not agree on each portion of the verdict, which cast doubt on whether a unanimous agreement had been reached.

In November, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Christopher Foley upheld the verdict.

The residents next challenged the amount of court costs included in the judgment. They had requested $452,905.92 for attorney fees, expert witness fees and other costs, but the judgment included only $27,050.73.

In March, Foley increased the amount of court costs to $377,991.16.

The city’s Judiciary and Legislation Committee is expected to vote Monday on whether to pay the judgment.


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