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Saturday, 08 April 2006
Families feeling sunk by sinkhole file a lawsuit
Cleveland Stegall is eligible for a buyout from his job at General Motors Corp., but the Stegalls said they feel like they're trapped in a house they no longer want. "Who is going to buy our home now?" Nettie Stegall said. "There are a lot of things we can't plan for because we have a $500,000 house we can't sell. We can't plan for early retirement because of the stress it put on our heads."They are among nine families who sued the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and three corporations Friday. They are seeking millions of dollars for medical, financial and aesthetic woes caused by the sinkhole. It affected the Bartola Farms and Villa Fontana subdivisions off 15 Mile between Utica and Moravian.

Detroit Free Press
Families feeling sunk by sinkhole file a lawsuit
City department, builders named

April 5, 2006
BY JOHN MASSON and STAN DONALDSON
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS

      photoThe 160-foot-by-60-foot sinkhole that opened up in August 2004 on 15 Mile west of Hayes in Sterling Heights is still causing problems. (2005 photo by MARY SCHROEDER/Detroit Free Press)

Cleveland Stegall and his wife, Nettie, once talked about heading South to retire early.

But that possibility ended in August 2004, when an 11-foot sewer main ruptured and a gargantuan sinkhole opened by their house in Sterling Heights.

Cleveland Stegall is eligible for a buyout from his job at General Motors Corp., but the Stegalls said they feel like they're trapped in a house they no longer want.

"Who is going to buy our home now?" Nettie Stegall said. "There are a lot of things we can't plan for because we have a $500,000 house we can't sell. We can't plan for early retirement because of the stress it put on our heads."

They are among nine families who sued the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and three corporations Friday. They are seeking millions of dollars for medical, financial and aesthetic woes caused by the sinkhole. It affected the Bartola Farms and Villa Fontana subdivisions off 15 Mile between Utica and Moravian.

The cost to repair the 160-foot-by-60-foot hole, which gobbled up parts of 15 Mile and the entrance to Villa Fontana, topped an estimated $53 million. Macomb County and Detroit Water and Sewerage are locked in a separate dispute over whose taxpayers will pick up that tab.

Mayer Morganroth, the attorney representing the families, said residents suffered ailments including sleeplessness, eye infections, heart problems and even a miscarriage as a result of the sewage fumes, diesel exhaust that hung over the neighborhood and almost-constant pounding of repair work.

Also, Morganroth said, their homes suffered damage from cracked foundations, windows that don't seal well, sunken yards and other problems.

Kiran Sood, another plaintiff from Sterling Heights, said every creaking step she takes in her house reminds her it isn't the same since the sinkhole.

"This is very stressful," said Sood, 58. "There is still an odor in here, and you can smell it in the water and in our clothes when we do laundry."

Besides the water department, the suit also names Pulte Homes of Michigan, Pulte Land Company and C.R. Miller Homes Inc. A woman who answered the phone at C.R. Miller declined to comment; a spokeswoman for Pulte said company lawyers haven't yet seen the suit. The water department also didn't return phone calls.

Morganroth said the builders are named because of a sewer-main break in the same location in 1978.

"They should certainly have let people know that they were getting homes that were being built over troubled waters, so to speak," Morganroth said. "Really, the damages are in many, many millions. The houses are practically worthless. Who the hell would buy them now?"

Under the best circumstances, he said, a jury won't hear the case for at least two years.

The Stegalls, who have lived in their subdivision since 2000, know that's a long time to wait.

"The biggest problem," Nettie Stegall said, "is that we know the value of our home is zip."

Contact JOHN MASSON at 586-469-4904 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060405/NEWS04/604050421/1006

 
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