Detroit, builders sued for sinkhole's misery
Residents of Villa Fontana and Bartola Farms subdivisions filed the lawsuit Friday in Macomb Circuit Court against the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Pulte Homes of Michigan Inc., Pulte Land Company LLC, both based in Bloomfield Hills, and C.R. Miller Homes in Shelby Township...The sinkhole caused back yards to sink 2 to 3 feet and damaged foundations, walls and ceilings of homes and basements, Morganroth said. The subsequent repairs caused residents to lose sleep and suffer health problems, and lose enjoyment of their homes, the lawsuit says. Morganroth said their homes are now "worthless." The city of Sterling Heights reduced the homes' value by about 70 percent.
Detroit, builders sued for sinkhole's misery
Crater fixed, but Sterling residents claim health problems, loss of homes' values
April 4, 2006
By Jameson Cook
Three-dozen Sterling Heights residents who live near a now-filled massive sinkhole demand compensation from the city of Detroit and three companies for loss of property value, health problems and lifestyle hardships.
Residents of Villa Fontana and Bartola Farms subdivisions filed the lawsuit Friday in Macomb Circuit Court against the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Pulte Homes of Michigan Inc., Pulte Land Company LLC, both based in Bloomfield Hills, and C.R. Miller Homes in Shelby Township.
The crater, triggered by a sewer-main rupture, was created overnight Aug. 22, 2004, on 15 Mile Road, west of Hayes Road, sucking in the road and damaging nearby properties. Fifteen Mile remained closed while the break was fixed and the sinkhole filled over 10 months at a cost of $53 million.
"These people have been put through a living hell and they've been stressed out -- financially, physically and mentally," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Mayer Morganroth.
The plaintiffs are adults and children residing in 10 homes on either side of 15 Mile closest to the former sinkhole, Morganroth said. He said he accepted only the most-affected homeowners as clients.
"A lot of people from a distance away, a couple of blocks away, approached us, but we only accepted people who were directly affected," Morganroth said.
The sinkhole caused back yards to sink 2 to 3 feet and damaged foundations, walls and ceilings of homes and basements, Morganroth said. The subsequent repairs caused residents to lose sleep and suffer health problems, and lose enjoyment of their homes, the lawsuit says.
Morganroth said their homes are now "worthless." The city of Sterling Heights reduced the homes' value by about 70 percent.
Representatives of all of the defendants could not be reached for comment Monday.
Fifteen Mile reopened last June 8 with a party thrown by Benedetto's restaurant, one of several businesses on 15 Mile affected.
The plaintiffs blame the DWSD for failing to monitor and inspect the main that triggered the sinkhole because a rupture occurred in the same spot in 1978. They accuse the builders and home sellers of failing to disclose to the homebuyers of the 1978 rupture and other alleged latent drainage problems on their properties and in the area.
The lawsuits claim that Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco also blamed the DWSD for its "failure to perform periodic and proper inspections and failure to heed experts' warnings despite knowing of serious structural defects."
Macomb County last June filed a lawsuit against the DWSD to prevent it from making county water and sewer users from footing the entire repair bill.
According to the lawsuit, the properties were not properly graded by the builders when the homes were built. Morganroth said the city of Sterling Heights should not have issued building permits for the affected homes. However, Sterling Heights was not named a defendant, although it may have to be involved in the legal process, the lawyer said.
The ruptured sewer main caused the discharge of raw sewage into the plaintiffs' land and homes, causing the emission of sewage fumes into the homes, the lawsuit says.
The use of heavy machinery and equipment by the DWSD or their contractors subjected "plaintiffs and their land and homes to a constant barrage of construction vibrations, noise, fumes, dust and debris ... all hours of the day and night," the lawsuit says.
The round-the-clock construction and residents' inhalation of diesel and raw sewage fumes has caused health problems and prevented the residents from enjoying their homes, the lawsuit claims.
"Plaintiffs constantly suffered headaches, stomach aches, nausea, eye irritation, stress, depression and other ailments which were compounded by the lack of sleep due to construction floodlights, vibrations, noise and fumes," the lawsuit says. "All of the working adult plaintiffs missed time from work due to the effects from the sinkhole, and all of the children/minor plaintiffs' development and performance at school deteriorated."
Infants at one home suffered repeated eye infections, one woman suffered a miscarriage and a woman was hospitalized several times for heart and respiratory problems. Another plaintiff was recovering from heart surgery during that time, but no special accommodations for her were made by the defendants.
The DWSD may claim that it is protected from paying damages because of governmental immunity, but Morganroth said the rupture falls within an exception to immunity.
A governmental unit loses immunity when a "sewage disposal system event" causes an overflow and the "system had a defect" according to state law, the lawsuit says. Immunity is waived when the governmental agency "failed to take reasonable steps in a reasonable amount of time to repair, correct or remedy the defect," state law says, according to the lawsuit.
The DWSD gained permission from four of the homeowners to install steel sheeting to prevent further land erosion and agreed to restore the property to its original or "better condition," the lawsuit says. But the properties were not restored, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit seeks more than $25,000 each in damages.
The plaintiffs list 12 counts, including breach of warranty, breach of contract, negligence, and negligent and innocent misrepresentations.
The adult plaintiffs are Corey and Gwenesia Collins, William and Margaret George, Martha Grabowski, Khalid Iqbal, Gloria Rocha, Willie and Patricia Lynn, Richard and Lyndie Marcoux, Feliciano, Debiodelma, Carl Vincent, James and Krystle Gail Modina, Herminigilda and Marcial Almeria, Thomas and Helen Roncelli, Servesh and Kiran Sood, and Cleveland, Nettie, Cleveland Jr., Wesley and Natalie Stegall.