On May 22, 2020, Sommers Schwartz attorneys Jason Thompson and Elaina Bailey filed the first of two class action lawsuits on behalf of Gladwin and Midland County residents. The first case was filed on May 22, 2020, against the hydroelectric companies and others believed to be responsible for the devastating floods in Midland, Michigan. As Jason explains in the audio clip below, a second suit will be filed against the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) this week. The State faces liability for its actions, and inactions, all of which amount to an unconstitutional taking of property.
The first action claims the defendants neglected to maintain dams within acceptable safety standards, including making necessary repairs to known faults, and that because of their negligence, the plaintiffs – all Midland County and Sanford, Michigan residents – suffered extensive financial and emotional harm. The second action focuses on the State’s inaction to prevent the dams’ failures after they assuming oversight responsibility, and in fact, promoting high water levels of Wixom Lake.
Dam Failure Timeline
At approximately 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, the 96-year-old Edenville Dam – one of several dams in the region of the Tittabawassee and Tobacco Rivers – failed when its structure collapsed from heavy rains. As a result, the 2,600-acre Wixom Lake reservoir emptied, flooding the surrounding area and pushing water into Sanford Lake. The increased pressure caused the Sanford Dam to fail at approximately 7:00 p.m., expanding the flood zone to the city of Midland and beyond.
Homeowners and renters watched helplessly as floodwater overtook their residences, destroying walls, floors, windows, doors, furniture, home offices, home office equipment, and personal property. The water separated houses from their foundations, sending them floating. Boat lifts, docks, swimming pools were similarly destroyed.
History of Negligent Maintenance
Over the past 14 years, the U. S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) continuously reviewed the defendants’ operation over concerns that their failure to implement measures needed to maintain the dam placed public safety in peril. In fact, federal regulators revoked the hydropower generating license for the Edenville Dam in 2018, due to years of failure by the defendants to address safety problems — especially the structure’s ability to withstand a major flood.
Despite FERC calling the defendants’ abuse of its license “appalling,” they continued to operate the Edenville Project.
Liability and Compensation
Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic and under a statewide shelter-in-place order issued by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the plaintiffs are among thousands of people forced to evacuate their homes. They have suffered – and continue to suffer – emotional distress, anxiety, and mental anguish.
The class action alleges the defendants are liable for negligent maintenance and repair of the dams, creating a public and private nuisance that endangered the community, causing a physical invasion of water constituting a trespass, and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.
Individuals and families have lost personal property and belongings, can no longer work from home or perform jobs remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, and own real property that has decreased in value from the flooding.
Speak With an Experienced Flood Damage Attorney
The attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Complex Litigation Group are available to people harmed by the devastating Midland flood. If you are a homeowner or renter in Midland County and Sanford whose life has been turned upside down by this catastrophe, we’ll discuss your situation and help you determine your right to compensation for real and personal property losses and other harm.
Please call our Midland Flood Hotline at (248) 746-4041!