Appeals panel affirms judgment against Miami County in busted water line dispute

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed judgment against Miami County employees who caused more than $100,000 in damages to water lines that supplied the City of Peru during an attempted logjam removal.

When employees of the Miami County Board of Commissioners deployed a homemade, 800-pound device to break up a logjam on the Wabash River in Peru in 2016, the county employees were aware that there were city water lines under the river in that area.

The workers did not request a map or precise information about the location of the water lines before getting started on the log removal. However, county employee Randy Heilman had been shown two years earlier a map indicating the water lines near the bridge during a similar attempt to dismantle the logjam. As a result of that information, the county employees at that time had stopped their work.

But during the 2016 attempts to clear the jam, a county employee who set the device on the riverbed during the work of removing the logs caused one of the water lines to break. The damages totaled more than $100,000, prompting the city and its insurer to file a complaint against the county, alleging that the city had sustained damages as a proximate result of the county’s negligent and careless misconduct.

The Miami Circuit Court ultimately entered judgment for the city, which the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Friday in  Miami County Board of Commissioners v. Us Specialty Insurance Company, 20A-CT-00953.

It also ordered the county to pay total damages of $104,370.94.

First, the appellate court concluded that because the work at issue was neither a project to excavate nor to demolish a structure, DUFA and its requirements do not apply. It therefore concluded that the city was not foreclosed from bringing a general negligence claim against the county.

On the issue of negligence, the appellate court found that the county owed a duty to the city to act with reasonable care in removing the logjam. It further found that it had little difficulty finding that based on the presented evidence, the trial court did not err by concluding that the county breached its duty of reasonable care to the city.

“Finally, it is undisputed that the City and the Insurer sustained damages as a result of the incident. Specifically, the City paid $1,000 to the Insurer as its deductible and the Insurer paid the City’s claim in the amount of $103,370.94,” Judge Leanna Weissman wrote for the appellate court.

“In sum, we find that the trial court did not err by concluding that the City proved all elements of its common law negligence claim. Likewise, it did not err by ordering that the County pay damages totaling $104,370.94.”

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