Rock Hill officials say they plan to “vigorously defend” themselves in a lawsuit that claims city employees “erroneously and recklessly” turned on water service to a vacant apartment, causing water damage and mold issues in a neighboring residence.
The lawsuit accusing city officials of “gross negligence” was filed earlier this year by a Rock Hill resident who says her Hunters Trail condo was ruined when the unit below her sustained water damage because of the error.
Attorney Craig Wilkerson of Rock Hill says his client, Melissa Shuler, was forced “to spend large amounts of money for medical treatment and services” and lost furniture and other items destroyed by mold or “mold-like growths.” Shuler’s lawsuit alleges that the city failed to detect the error in a timely manner and that it hasn’t properly trained or supervised Rock Hill employees handling the water service.
Rock Hill officials deny liability. The city’s attorney is expected to file an answer to the lawsuit this month. City spokeswoman Katie Quinn said last week that Rock Hill officials couldn’t answer questions from The Herald about the suit because the litigation is ongoing.
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Shuler’s lawsuit claims that the issue started in May 2012 when a new resident moved into a unit near her apartment. The apartment unit below hers was vacant at the time.
The new resident requested that water service be turned on for their unit but Shuler and her attorney say the city “erroneously, and recklessly, also turned on the water to the vacant apartment.”
The vacant unit below Shuler’s had open faucets and “water simply ran into the apartment” when city employees turned on water service for the wrong unit, according to the lawsuit. The suit alleges that the result was soaked floors and walls, creating a mold problem in Shuler’s apartment upstairs.
Nearly eight months later, Shuler discovered the issue when she began “to experience a host of health problems.” Because of mold, she says she can no longer live in her apartment.
Shuler is seeking payment from the city for damages and attorney costs.
Two other lawsuits against the city of Rock Hill – both filed by residents who allege that failures of the city’s utilities department have caused thousands of dollars in damage to their homes – are still unresolved after nearly two years. In those two lawsuits, the city also has denied fault.
In one case, a family sued Rock Hill in December 2012 after they say sewage spilled into their basement for 20 days. The family and their attorney allege that a sewer line malfunction caused mold and bacteria problems in the home, aggravating their two young daughters’ existing medical issues and devaluing their home.
The sewage case – filed by Wayne and Randi Pennell – was dropped in October but city officials say it has since been restored. It’s unclear why the Pennells’ attorney agreed to drop the case. In August, the city attempted mediation or settlement talks with the family but that effort failed.
In the other case, a Rock Hill woman sued the city and the state Department of Transportation for allegedly channeling rain water from streets through an old stormwater pipe under her home. The lawsuit – filed by Lucille Ray in November 2012 – claims an underground terra cotta pipe had deteriorated, causing at least part of her home to sink and sustain about $150,000 worth of damage.
Both the city and the DOT have denied ownership or maintenance responsibility of the pipe.
A York County judge recently dismissed part of Ray’s lawsuit. Master-in-Equity Judge Jack Kimball said the state DOT could not be held liable for damages just because it maintains a road whose drainage water moves through the city’s stormwater system. Kimball also granted a partial summary judgment for Rock Hill, dismissing some of Ray’s claims.
The city and Ray’s attorney then agreed to try legal mediation again, according to court documents. The agreement allows Ray to restore her case if settlement negotiations are unsuccessful.
Quinn said city officials also could not comment or answer questions about the Pennell or Ray cases because legal issues are still pending.