Insurance company says city was not negligent

EAST LIVERPOOL – A Midway Lane couple who has filed a lawsuit over a backed-up sewer was advised in October by an insurance company that the city was not negligent and is immune from legal action in the matter.

Clarence and Mary Lee Ammon filed the lawsuit in Common Pleas Court, alleging they found water throughout their basement and the concrete floor buckled, as well as sewage water that sprayed from a toilet and ran out the basement door.

The incident occurred during torrential rainfall in July, and the Ammons said in their lawsuit they contacted city officials and numerous others and were told by an acting sewer supervisor that the problem stemmed from the city not installing new lines from Manor Lane up to Midway.

Although the matter was not discussed at Thursday’s meeting of the city’s Board of Public Utilities, after the meeting, Service-Safety Director Ryan Estell provided an Oct. 15 letter to the Ammons’ attorney Charles Amato from the city’s insurance carrier.

He was advised that the company’s investigation failed to find negligence on the part of the city, saying, “The design of a sewer system and/or storm water runoff system is a governmental function. Therefore, the cityis entitled to governmental immunity and is not liable for the damages (according to state law).”

Claims adjuster Marie Koll also wrote that the city experienced torrential rains for several days and the cause of loss was flooding, with water possibly infiltrating the storm and sewer systems.

“The city maintains the lines throughout the area but does not have any control over natural occurrences such as these resulting in property damage,” Koll wrote.

She continued by saying the city had no prior notice of the Ammons’ backup but did respond and checked the main when notified and found it flowing.

“The storm and/ or storm system did not have a blockage that contributed to the Ammons’ loss. In Ohio, a municipality has no liability unless it knew, or should have known, of the existence of the defect and had a reasonable amount of time to repair the defect,” according to the letter.

Koll wrote that, in this instance, the city’s actions were “reasonable and its response was prompt.”

Also after the meeting, utilities Director Bob Disch was asked about the lawsuit and said the Ammons live in a low-lying area where water was several feet deep the day in question due to the heavy rain.

Although reluctant to discuss the issue in detail due to the pending litigation, Disch said a hinged back flow preventer could have prevented the sewage from flowing back into the Ammon house, which would have been the home owner’s responsibility to install.