Residents suing city over basement backups

By: Kristyne E. Demske, | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 14, 2017

ST. CLAIR SHORES — When the rain fell July 8 and Aug. 15-16, it didn’t just keep people indoors — it wreaked havoc in some residents’ basements.

Now some of them are looking for relief from the court system. 

Three residents are suing the city on behalf of a class of at least 250 homeowners who experienced sewage backups into their basements after excessive rainfall during the summer of 2016. 

According to the complaint filed Jan. 12 in Macomb County Circuit Court by Susan Chadwick, Teresa Davenport and Mark Lysakowsky, “Plaintiffs bring this action on behalf of themselves and all other city of St. Clair Shores residents who have suffered from flooding and physical invasion of their property by sewage, water, feces, dirt, debris and noxious odors, thereby causing material injury to their properties.”

Attorney Steve Liddle, of Detroit, said a state statute allows residents to sue the government when sewage backs up into their home — a law he helped get passed.

“St. Clair Shores, in particular, has had chronic flooding for years and years and years,” he said. “It’s to the point where the frustration boils over.”

He said the situation occurs because the underground infrastructure hasn’t been properly maintained.

“It’s not sexy to take care of sewage pipes. It’s sexy to take care of the Nautical Mile,” he said. 

The residents named in the suit live on Beste and Elizabeth streets. According to the suit, there was no obstruction or problem with the service lead or connection from the residents’ homes to the city’s sewer. 

Liddle wrote in the lawsuit that sewer systems like St. Clair Shores’ have entrance openings for sewage and exit openings or discharge points to allow for the discharge of sewers, but they should only be able to be discharged to a wastewater treatment plant or an interceptor sewer that brings the sewage to the treatment plant.

Defects of maintenance, however, would allow the seepage of groundwater into the sewer system, thereby overloading it during a large rain event. 

“Rain ... creates pressure, and that pressure relieves itself into the homes,” Liddle said. “They know about it, but they have to do some things to manage it.”

Unfortunately, he said, it is often cheaper to fix the problem that residents experience after the fact than to correct the infrastructure. 

The lawsuit seeks in excess of $25,000 in damages, plus attorney fees. 

“We want them to pay for the damages,” Liddle said. 

Having raw sewage in residents’ homes is a health concern, he said.

“It’s so dangerous we don’t want it in Lake St. Clair untreated. Imagine having it in your house,” he said. “There’s an ick factor there.”

With several feet of sewage in a basement, almost everything needs to be thrown out, from clothes to carpet to furniture and drywall.

“It’s a financial burden as well,” he said. 

The attorney said to be representing the city of St. Clair Shores in the matter did not return calls seeking comment on the case by press time.