We recently resolved a case against the City of Los Angeles involving flood damage to our clients’ property. Our clients are the owners of private home which was severely damaged when rain storm water from a storm water curb inlet, operated and maintained by the City of Los Angeles, backed up and onto plaintiffs’ residence. As a result, a large amount of rain water runoff, and accumulated debris, spilled onto our clients’ property, flooding portions of the ground floor of the property, the crawl space underneath the house, destroying surrounding landscaping and damaging the pool and surrounding areas.
Through investigation and discovery, we were able to prove that the flooding occurred as a result of the failure of a recently installed storm drain inlet cover to function as intended and designed. The storm drain inlet cover is designed to reduce the volume and quantity of solid waste ending up in the storm water system by keeping out all debris in excess of 3/4 inches in diameter. The screen is designed to open, much like a trap door, when water rises to over three inches in height in front of the screen, thereby allowing accumulated debris and standing water to enter the storm water system, so as to prevent local pooling and flooding. In our case the storm drain inlet cover became blocked with an accumulation of debris and failed to open as designed. As a result thousands of gallons of dirty water, mud and debris flooded our clients’ property. With the help of a team of property assessors, engineers and contractors we were able to prove the cause of the flood and the nature and extent of the damage. As a result we were able to make our clients whole by recovering 100% of their repair costs and attorney fees.
We at Heimanson & Wolf regularly handle Inverse Condemnation cases on behalf of injured private property owners. Article I, Section 19 of the California Constitution requires that just compensation be paid when private property is taken or damaged for public use. In Albers v. Los Angeles County (1965) 62 Cal. 2d 250, the California Supreme Court held that public entities such as the City of Los Angeles would be held strictly liable if their operation or maintenance of a public improvement damaged the property of another:
“Any actual physical injury to real property proximately caused by the improvement as deliberately designed and constructed is compensable under article I, section 14 [now section 19] of our Constitution, whether foreseeable or not.”
In Bauer v. County of Ventura (1955) 45 Cal. 2d 276, a home owner sued the county water district for inverse condemnation alleging the negligent construction and maintenance of a system of drainage ditches and levees. Some 13 years after the levee’s construction, the lower bank was raised and as a result waters overflowed and damaged plaintiff’s property. In ruling for the plaintiff, the Bauer court held:
“[T]he taking or damaging of private property for the maintenance of an existing public improvement involving a deliberate act which has as its object the direct or indirect accomplishment of the purpose of the improvement as a whole constitutes a taking or damaging of property for public use and the owner of such property is entitled to compensation.”
The holding in Bauer has been applied to a wide range of factual situations. If your private property was damaged as a result of the actions (or inactions) of a government body or municipality, the attorneys at Heimanson & Wolf may be able to help you receive just compensation for the damages you have incurred.