Sewage Flood Brings Lawsuit

Sewage flood brings lawsuit: Millbrae homeowner alleges infrastructure failure resulted in human waste spill
December 09, 2016, 05:00 AM By Austin Walsh Daily

A Millbrae resident is suing the city on claims she suffered significant property damage when raw sewage backed up through her plumbing and flooded her home.

Juliann Forcum, who lives on Poplar Avenue, filed a lawsuit last month in San Mateo County Superior Court alleging human waste came spewing into her home last year from the sewage main owned and operated by the city of Millbrae.

Immediately following the accident last year, Forcum claims a Millbrae Public Works representative acknowledged the issue was caused by a failing of the city’s underground infrastructure. But an attorney hired by Forcum said a subsequent claim filed against the city seeking damages was denied, leaving his client no other option than to take legal action.

“This case is all about personal responsibility. Why should a citizen of the city have to go hire a lawyer to get their home repaired? She is a longtime resident. It’s kind of odd they treat their citizens this way,” said Ara Jabagchourian, an attorney representing Forcum.

Forcum paid about $16,000 to have her home cleaned and repair the damage to sheetrock and paint, among other efforts. The lawsuit does not seek a specific amount in relief, but Jabagchourian said the suffering his client experienced should be considered.

“Imagine you can’t use half of your house because you have raw sewage flooding it,” he said.

Millbrae officials did not provide a comment on this article, citing a policy disallowing publicly discussing pending litigation.

The flooding was started when a manhole overflowed, according to the lawsuit claiming it continued for more than three hours.

Though the damage was severe, Jabagchourian said it is not as bad as the incident which occurred almost six months later when a similar flood in March flowed into three homes on El Bonito Way.

Jabagchourian also represents the homeowners who suffered the accident brought on by intense rainstorms backing up into an open construction site and clogging an underground sewer lateral being worked on by a city contractor.

Forcum has been able to stay in her home throughout the duration of the work to fix the flooding damage, while many of the other residents on El Bonito Way are still displaced and have limited options for addressing the devastating damage to their property, said Jabagchourian.

“These families are in tough situations, there should be some kind of help,” said Jabagchourian. “There should be some kind of aid for them because the families are taking a direct shot and it is a hard one.”

The insurance companies for the residents on El Bonito Way declined to cover the damages citing holes in their policies, and the city also denied their damages claim, so Jabagchourian filed separate lawsuits representing them as well.

He said some of the flooding from the March incident was so severe that residents needed to strip contaminated portions of their homes down to the studs and rebuild sizable portions of their properties that were irreparably damaged. He added many of the homeowners’ personal belongings were ruined and needed to be thrown out, compounding the economic demands placed on their shoulders.

“They are double whammied, and all the damage and all the repair is coming out of their pockets,” he said.

Jabagchourian was reticent to draw parallels between the El Bonito Way incident and the earlier flooding at Forcum’s home, citing different contributing circumstances.

But he did suggest the city examine its underground sewage systems to assure there is not a structural issue causing the floods.

“If there is a fundamental problem with the infrastructure, I hope they fix it sooner than later so it’s not wiping people’s stuff out,” he said.

But with the flooding being a reoccurring issue, Jabagchourian said he is hopeful the lawsuits offer a form of accountability which has been difficult for all his clients to find so far.

“These families — none of them did anything wrong, and nobody is stepping up,” he said. “So it’s my job to get someone to step up sooner than later, I hope.”