August 2014 flood victims sue cities; lawmakers try to stop lawsuits

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It was August 2014 when a day of rain caused the worst flooding our area has ever seen. Now almost two years later, flood victims are suing their cities and some lawmakers are trying to stop lawsuits like these from taking place.

FOX 2's Dave Spencer takes us to one Royal Oak neighborhood that was one of the hardest hit areas. Now, nearly 600 homeowners in that city alone are part of a class action lawsuit against the county for that flood.

"Everything that was in the sewage water had to be thrown away," said Joe Schramski.

Having a finished basement in their Royal Oak neighborhood meant costly repairs after the flood.

"Two months about $15,000 in damage," said Matthew Voss.

But as for who or what is responsible for the flood - that's up for debate.

"Someone has to be held accountable other than homeowners," Voss said.

"The sewers generally work good, they've worked for about 100 years or however long they were put in," said Schramski. "It was unforeseeable."

Neither of these two homeowners joined a class action lawsuit, but hundreds of their neighbors have - accusing Jim Nash, the Oakland Water Resource commissioner, the county and the cities they serve of ignoring a system defect when it comes to sewage disposal.

"They had 12 feet of sewage being constricted going into a six-foot pipe," said David Dubin, attorney. "That's not an act of God, that's an act of man who created that situation."

Dubin claims lawsuits like this are the only way to get accountability. But HB 5282 will give government immunity to lawsuits having to do with sewer overflows due to massive storms.

Jim Nash supports such a law.

"If it's the fault of the system of the operators - whether they be private or public, if it's the fault and it goes to court to find out, than absolutely they should be held responsible," said Jim Nash. "But if the storm overwhelms the way the system is built, we should not have to pay for that because it will just flood communities with cost."

He says that's exactly what happened back in August of 2014. A freak storm that overwhelmed a system up to standards calling it a 330 year storm.

"It isn't a freak of nature incident it's a failure to operate the system properly," Dubin said. "It is a failure to operate their system properly."

The attorney says lawsuit like this keep government honest. While the county commissioner says House Bill 5282 keeps government from going bankrupt

"If we have a system where the laws tell us to build a certain way,"  "But if there is a flood we are held responsible then it's going to cost taxpayers massive amounts of money to attorneys and those who were flooded."

Whether or not this bill becomes law will have no bearing on the current class-action lawsuit only on those going forward. The attorneys are still in the process of building a case.

The government immunity bill stand now in a committee and will be heard at noon on Wednesday.