By David Fleet
Goodrich- Village taxpayers may soon get a break on growing legal fees as an ongoing lawsuit spanning almost four years takes a new turn.
In a special meeting on June 28, the village council voted 4-0 to put on hold a case filed by the village against their insurance company, who denied defense costs and damages in the pending case of Allen vs. Goodrich.
Council member Tim Light was absent.
The stay means that U.S Specialty Insurance Co., will now represent the village and assume the costs of the lawsuit filed on July 25, 2013 by Flint Attorney Dean T. Yeotis. The class action was filed in the Seventh Circuit Court for a group of Village of Goodrich residents, along with three Genesee County businesses, charging four counts surrounding the village sewage system, drains and mill pond. The plaintiffs’ series of complaints seek monetary damages in excess of $25,000. Judge Richard Yuille is hearing the case.
The village is insured as a member of the Michigan Township Participating Plan. The company represents a group of about 1,300 municipalities statewide.
However, in October 2014 U.S. Specialty Insurance Co., denied the village coverage for expenses in the class action. Since that time, village attorney Thomas McKinney has been counsel in the lawsuit. McKenney is paid per hour for his work which is part of the village budget.
Under the new agreement the insurance company will cover all bills from McKenney and reimburse the fee already paid along with costs since the case started.
“We don’t have a total yet on the amount of money we spent,” said Jakki Sidge, village administrator.
Sidge said the insurance company changed course when the plaintiff deleted two words.
“As soon as the attorney for the plaintiffs took out the words ‘sanitary sewer,’ they (the insurance company) decided to take over the case,” said Sidge. “The stay will remain until the (class action) lawsuit ends.”
Mark Baldwin, village council president, said the insurance company would have covered the village from the beginning.
“We are just trying to get them (the insurance company) where they should have been in the first place,” said Baldwin. “And recover as much of the costs as possible.”
The special village meeting on the stay was necessary prior to the end of June due to the time sensitivity of the case, added Sidge.
In addition to the Village of Goodrich, the Genesee County Drain Commissioner, Division of Surface Water Management, Division of Water and Waste Services and Goodrich Country Club are also defendants in the suit.
The four counts include sewage disposal system defect claims, unlawful taking of property as a result of damages caused by the sewer system, a negligence claim against the Goodrich Country Club regarding a culvert under Ridge Road used to provide irrigation for the golf course, and unlawful trespass of water claim against the Goodrich Country Club that caused damage. The suit claims the defendants failed to timely correct defective conditions with regard to the sewers, drains and the mill pond. The results of the defects allegedly caused damages to the plaintiffs’ homes and businesses when untreated sewage and storm water backed up into their dwellings.
Issues with the Goodrich area drains began about three years ago allegedly caused by the Wheelock & Watkins Drain. The agricultural drain, built in about 189, encompasses a large section of the village, impacting about 100 residents. The old drain under the jurisdiction of Genesee County has been one possible cause of flooding of several residents’ homes over the past few years.
The suit also claims the operation of the Goodrich Mill Pond and dam have substantial defects, including a lack of routine maintenance, inadequate repairs and upgrades, misallocation of funding, inappropriate and untrained operational staff, a significant lack of capacity and negligent design.
The case is still pending.