Water Damage

On August 19, 1991, the cellar of a two (2) story Brooklyn, New York building became filled with water. The result of the inflow of water the plaintiff incurred a loss of equipment and blamed a contractor who was working on the adjacent roadway for the basement flooding.

a)  A piece of pipe assumed as evidence by the plaintiff measured approximately two inches (2") long; with an outside diameter  4-1/2",  inside diameter 3-1/2", and a wall thickness approximately 1/2", which was claimed to be a piece of broken pipe that caused the flooding of the basement.
b) The pipe appeared to be cut jagged on one side and evenly on the other side. The pipe showed no sign of fracture in bending, nor did it show any sign of fracture in shear. The pipe was cut approximately 7/8th around in a jagged mode and then snapped and removed from the excavation.
c) The inspection of the exterior of the exterior of the two story building revealed that the approximate area of the cellar was 25' by  75', or an area of 1,875 sq. ft.  The cellar was completely under the surface of the ground surrounding the building.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Local Climatologically Data showed the total rainfall from August 19, 1991 through August 21, 1991 to be 2.80 Inches

Plaintiff's Engineer's inspection report stated that there was a water stain approximately  2 feet above the basement slab. There was water staining down from the ladder and hatchway that led from the sidewalk. There were heavy earth stains where the sprinkler pipe entered the building. It was not determined the order of occurrence of when the stains developed. There was also no mention in the report of residual water on the cellar floor. This was an indication that the water drained out in the same manner that it entered the cellar. The inspection took place  23 days after the flooding.

Plaintiff stated in his deposition;
Q. Did you have any other conversation with the workmen beyond what you told me?
A. Yes.
Q. What other conversations took place?
A. They came to me and they told me that a [water] pipe was broken for the sprinkler.
Q. Did you take that to mean a sprinkler your building?
A. No.
Q. Did you take that to mean a pipe that fed the sprinkler of your building? A. Yes.
Q. Did you observe any flooding or seeping of water inside the premises at that time?
A. No.
This portion of the deposition indicated that there was no flooding when the sprinkler pipe to the building was broken the first time in April 1991.

Plaintiff also stated;
Q. When I asked you how high the water was, you made a gesture with your hands. Is that roughly about three feet?
A. I said between four and five feet.
Q. Between four and five feet. Are there any items that were in the basement that were not damaged by the water?
A. No.
Q. How did the water leave the basement? Did it drain out, was it pumped out?
A. It drained out.
Q. How long did it take for it to drain out?
A. I don't remember.

In this portion of the deposition Plaintiff stated that the water drained out of the cellar. The water was not pumped out. This is an important fact. Because if the water drained out, then the water entered the cellar either from under the cellar slab as a result of a rising water table because of the large amount of rain that fell in a short period of time. The other probable and more likely source of water seepage into the cellar was from a back-up of the storm/sanitary sewer system. Brooklyn has a combination storm/sanitary sewer system. The sewer trap is located under the cellar slab. The large amount of rainfall overloaded the combined sewer/drainage system and caused a back up in the house sewer line of the building. The level of back up was the watermark two feet (2') above the cellar slab. In all probability, the water entered through combined sewer back-up.

General Contractor's Project Manager stated in his deposition:

Q. Do you recall what the nature of the work that was required at this location?
A. Yes.
Q. What was that, sir?
A. We were replacing an existing section of the sanitary and storm sewer.

The General Contractor was replacing a combined storm/sanitary sewer. The combined sewer carried both sanitary sewerage and storm water runoff. Building sewer connections are from the building to the combined sewer. If the sewers were backed up, that is, the volume of water exceeds the capacity of the pipes, then the hydrostatic water pressure that builds up causes the water in the pipes to back up into the house/building connections.
The volume of water in the cellar at a level of two feet (2') above the slab and for an area of 1,875 square feet is approximately 28,000 gallons. This volume represented the maximum amount of water collected over a one to two day period. If the 3-1/2" sprinkler pipe was broken and flowing into the cellar at various volumes the cellar would fill to the two foot (2') level in the following times for a water pressure of approximately 80 psi and neglecting losses:

If the sprinkler pipe were the source of the flow, the water would not stop at the two-foot (2') level . In all probability, if the sprinkler broke, water from the sprinkler pipe would have filled the entire cellar and overflowed onto the street. This did not occur, the cause of damage was due to the hurricane and not the contractor.

The case settled.

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