PERU – Miami County has been ordered to pay the City of Peru $104,000 after workers broke a waterline beneath the Wabash River with a homemade contraption, forcing a citywide boil order for days.
The city’s insurer sued the county in 2018 after employees two years earlier deployed a homemade, 800-pound device to break up a logjam on the Wabash River in Peru.
The device was made using a rotor from a combine with pieces of metal welded to the bottom to act as hooks. The rotor was attached to the arm of an excavator, which was parked on the bridge.
According to the lawsuit, the county employees were aware there were city waterlines under the river in that area, but did not request a map or precise information about the location of the waterlines.
When a county employee set the device on the riverbed, one of the waterlines broke and caused damage totaling more than $100,000. The city’s insurer, U.S. Specialty Insurance Co., paid $103,370 for the repairs, and the city paid a $1,000 deductible.
The city and its insurer then filed a common law negligence claim against the county, arguing they were responsible for the damages and should be required to reimburse the city for repairs.
Following a bench trial, a judge in March entered judgment in favor of the city, ordering the county pay damages totaling $104,370.
The county appealed the ruling, arguing it did not act negligently when workers broke the waterline and shouldn’t be responsible for paying for repairs.
The Indiana Court of Appeals last week disagreed, saying workers did act negligently when they set the homemade device on the riverbed and the county must repay the city for damages.
The court pointed to the fact that county employees did not see or request a map of the location of the waterlines, and did not even notify the city beforehand of the planned date of the project.
Then, in the middle of the project, knowing that there were waterlines in the vicinity, a county employee intentionally set down a homemade device weighing 800-to-1,000 pounds on the riverbed.
The court said even though the full weight of the device was not placed on the riverbed, the waterline broke immediately and water began bubbling up into the river. The county employees then drove away from the project site without informing anyone from the city that something had gone wrong.
“We have little difficulty finding that based on this evidence, the trial court did not err by concluding that the county breached its duty of reasonable care to the city,” the court wrote in its ruling.
The court noted that once the city discovered the broken line, workers didn’t have time to shut it down, forcing the city to enact a citywide boil order. City employees from multiple departments had to go door to door to inform all residents.
The court said the employees worked around the clock for a couple of days while the repairs to the damaged waterline were underway.