Deems file lawsuit in 2011 landslide

Sarah Hawley

October 22, 2013

POMEROY — Two years after the initial hill slide, a lawsuit has been filed by the landowners against the Village of Pomeroy and several others connected to the village.

In papers filed Friday with the Meigs County Clerk of Courts, David and Jamie Deem, owners of the home located at 148 Butternut Avenue, began a civil suit with regard to damages to their property from two hill slides in October and November of 2011.

The Deem’s property was damaged extensively as a result of the slides, necessitating a move from the location.

The documents state that the residence is over 100 years old and had been owned by Jamie Deem since 1985. The home also held great sentimental value to the couple as it was the home of their late daughter from the time of her birth until her passing in 2008.

The Deem’s property was not the only property damaged in the slides, with damage also done to the Meigs County Museum Annex. According to the court documents, the Village’s insurance through the Ohio Plan and Hylant Administrative Services paid for the damages to the annex in full. No payments have been received by the Deems, according to the paperwork.

The document explains eight claims against those named in the suit.

The suit was filed against the Village of Pomeroy, also Mayor Jackie Welker and Council Members Ruth Spaun, Phil Ohlinger, Luke Ortman, Robert Payne, Drew Reed and Victor Young, each in their official capacity. Also named as defendants in the action are water department employee Shannon Spaun, in his official and individual capacities, Jane Doe, Janet Doe and John Doe in their official and individual capacities, Hylant Administrative Services, LLC (HAS Claims Services), The Ohio Plan, and Laurie A. O’Malley Senior Claims Adjustor, individually and as an employee of Hylant Administrative Services.

The references to Jane Doe, Janet Doe and John Doe are current or former mayors, council members, officials or employees who may have been involved.

According to the 35-page court document, the Deems are asking for economic and non-economic compensatory damages, to include without limitation, the costs of removing excess dirt, mud and debris from the Butternut Residence property, stabilizing the hillside, and permanently repairing the hillside, the costs of restoring and repairing their home, their out-of-pocket expenses for moving, storage and other matters, lost time from work, mental anguish and suffering, and other no-economic damages, and if permitted, punitive damages, reasonable attorney’s fees, litigation expenses and court costs.

The Deems are also asking that a Writ of Restitution be issued requiring the Village, Mayor and Village Council to purchase the residence at the fair market value prior to the slides.

A timeline laid out in the court documents is as follows:

Oct. 20, 2011 — Residents up the hill, behind the Deem’s residence complain to the water department and/or village police about having no water pressure. The water line runs between the Deem’s residence and the Museum Annex. Either there was no response, or employees visited the location and no action was taken.

Oct. 21, 2011 — The residents again report no water pressure. The resident shows employee Shannon Spaun and possibly another employee a location where a pool of water continuously seeping or flowing out of the ground. No pressure test was conducted, and employees said there was a clog in the line upstairs in the residence. No other action was taken.

Oct. 22 and 23, 2011 — Water continued to flow out of the ground at the top of the hill behind the museum annex at the point of the water line leak.

Oct. 24, 2011 — In the early morning hours, David Deem first became aware of the water flowing down the hill toward the Annex. An officer responded to the property where mud and water was sliding down the hill at the museum annex.

Water department employees arrived later and went to work when their mud gear and equipment arrived. Searching for the valve to shut off the water, they found it to be broken. The backhoe was brought in and leak located. Water and mud began to flow into the Deem’s residence and trees on the hill began to lean. The backhoe hooked the water pipe causing the pipe to break at a new location behind the residence.

A root ball from a large tree slid down the hill, making contact with the left rear corner of the home, pushing against it and causing it to slowly twist. Two root balls and a tree crushed the addition built onto the residence.

Oct. 25, 2011 — Engineer checking the hillside on behalf of the village. Engineer suggests removal of some trees and redirecting of water flow/runoff with the use of blocks and sandbags. Village removes one tree, Deem’s have tree service remove remaining trees.

Oct. 26, 2011 — Large root ball leaning against house not removed. Over time, increasing pressure from the large root ball causes the house to twist resulting in more and more damage to the home as mud continues to slide.

Oct. 28, 2011 — It is believed those identified as Doe Defendants secured a corroded water pipe removed from the point of the first leak and had destroyed or disposed of it so it would never be found.

Oct. 31, 2011 — Village Law Director warns the Deems they should move.

Nov. 7, 2011 — A second engineer investigated the hill side at the request of O’Malley, Hylant and the Ohio Plan. Additional imminent slippage risks found. A letter the following day made several recommendations as to how the Village could prevent further damages. The engineer’s advice was not followed by the Village, O’Malley, Hylant or the Ohio Plan.

Nov. 17, 2011 — O’Malley wrote a letter indicating that Hylant and The Ohio Plan would cover damages to buildings resulting from landslide if not paid by the homeowner’s or property insurance carriers.

Nov. 21, 2011 — A village official admits that the repair and stabilization was responsibility of the village. Village starts receiving estimates.

Nov. 23, 2011 — Second hill slide takes place. The root ball against the house pushed harder into the house causing major damage. Gas line running along water line up the hill is sheared and must be repaired.

Deems told by O’Malley that Hylant and The Ohio Plan would provide very limited, if any, assistance notwithstanding her earlier letter.

Nov. 29, 2011 — Village official contacts Deems stating that a letter had been received from O’Malley, Hylant and The Ohio Plan only for damage from the first slide only is the damage was not covered by Deem’s insurer.

Dec. 5, 2011 — Engineer retained by Grange Insurance (Deem’s insurer) inspects site. Opinion issued that the home had been racked to the point that the cost of restoration likely would equal cost of rebuilding the home.

Dec. 6, 2011 — Village Law Director warned Hill Family (who reside next to the Deem’s property) that they should vacate their home until the hillside had been stabilized.

Dec. 12, 2011 — One or more village official expressed to O’Malley, Hylant and/or Ohio Plan that the insurer had backed off from its original intention to cover damages. An official demanded that they settle claims with the Museum Annex and Deems quickly.

Dec. 13, 2011 — O’Malley stated that hill side had been slipping gradually over time starting prior to the first hill slide and rain had caused the two hill slides.

Grange reimbursed the Deems only for damages caused by trees to the addition added to the property and out-of-pocket expenses paid for tree service.

Dec. 20, 2011 — O’Malley stated in letter that Hylant and Ohio Plan would continue investigation. Investigation was to aid in determining if the village was liable or any slippage.

Village officials continue to admit responsibility for both hill slides.

Jan. 2012 — The house received continuing damage from flowing water and mud. Cracks in the house appeared making it able to see outside from inside.

Jan. 25, 2012 — The Daily Sentinel reported that the village had received a $109,000 grant for the damages.

March 1, 2012 — Village official or representative from Hylant or the Ohio Plan advised a Museum Representative that they would arrange for cleanup of the hill behind the Museum Annex. The same day a village official told the Hill family tat Hylant and/or the Ohio Plan would not pay any further sums. Hylant and/or The Ohio Plan eventually paid for restoration of all damages caused by the hill slides to the Museum Annex.

March 15, 2012 — O’Malley wrote a letter stating that Hylant and/or The Ohio Plan were not responsible for damages to the Deem’s property.

NOTE: At the time of hill slides, Welker was not the Mayor of Pomeroy, instead, a member of council; additionally, current council members Dru Reed, Robert Payne and Luke Ortman were not members of council. Pete Barnhart, Jim Sisson and Welker were serving in those seats at the time.