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Agreement doesn’t preclude subsequent lawsuit for water damage

August 7, 2012

A release agreement a Warrick County couple signed in 2002 regarding water issues in their home resulting from county work that disconnected downspout lines from the home does not preclude the couple from suing the city after discovering water damage to their home in 2007, the Court of Appeals held.

William and Stacy Hill found a significant amount of standing water in the crawl space under their home in 2002 after Warrick County performed drainage work in a ditch adjacent to the Hills’ home. The ditch was filled, eliminating it. In the process, downspout lines that had previously drained the Hills’ home’s roof gutters into the ditch were disconnected.

The couple signed an agreement and release with the county after it paid a contractor’s bill. But the Hills continued to have problems with accumulating water and, in 2007, discovered that their home had structural problems attributable to high moisture conditions in the foundation soil. An engineering firm submitted a report that the foundational problems were due to the elimination of the ditch.

In December 2007, the Hills filed a notice of tort claim. They filed their lawsuit in November 2008 against the county and Cincinnati Insurance Co. for damages. The county sought summary judgment, which was denied. The Court of Appeals affirmed on interlocutory appeal.

The release agreement the Hills signed did not preclude their 2008 lawsuit because the language of the agreement didn’t mention an elevated water table or connect the known blockage problems with structural damages to the home, wrote Judge Cale Bradford. The judges rejected the county’s claim that “other damages” and “interference with drainage from the home” shows that the structure problems now at issue were an understood term in the release agreement.

The Court of Appeals found the Hills filed their tort claim notice within the six-year statute of limitations on actions for injury to property other than personal property, and complied with the Indiana Tort Claims Act. The structural problems discovered in 2007 weren’t known in 2002, the judges held, and are distinguishable from the original issue of disconnected downspouts.

 

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