By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
A complex case of "whodunit" involving a commercial development that became a flood zone began in Laurel Circuit Court on Monday.
With more attorneys than parties present in the courtroom, the question of who is responsible for a collapsed drain was the question at hand.
The lawsuit, filed by Laurel Properties LLC, originally named the City of London as the defendant in the lawsuit. However, other parties soon were named in the complicated case that now involves more than a dozen attorneys and almost as many businesses.
The civil lawsuit does not involve a jury, instead, Special Judge Robert McGinnis will decide who is responsible for a defective drain line that resulted in three businesses experiencing damages from flooding.
The problem came to light in 2010 after massive rainfall flooded the area behind the Saint Joseph Medical Foundation Office Park, first established as Cumberland Medical Associates under Dr. Mark Adams. The flooding damaged the buildings and equipment and resulted in closing of the businesses for several days.
The problem now is dealt with by large drain pipes running from the West Fifth Street properties to the Bacho Development properties beside the Walmart SuperCenter and into the city's storm drainage system that goes into Sampson Branch.
Monday afternoon, London Streets, Sanitation and Recycling Director Steve Edge took the stand. Edge testified that he became head of that department in 1999, after the business strip that houses DLC Digestive and Liver Clinic, Insight Properties, Eye Deal Eye Care and Renaissance Medical was developed.
While Edge oversees the city streets, sanitation, and recycling center, he said his duties did not involve the development of the properties, nor did it involve the development of Bacho, which is the property development owned by Realtor Albert Robinson, who is also a defendant in the case.
Then came City Building Inspector Doug Gilbert to the witness stand, who served in that capacity from 1994 until 1999. Gilbert answered attorney Gregg Hovious' questions concerning the procedures of installing the drainage system from the West Fifth Street development, noting he mentioned a potential problem to former mayor, Ken Smith. When Gilbert returned as City Building Inspector in 2008, he learned the drain had collapsed and was causing water retention problems in the area.
Gilbert said standard procedures note not to bury pipes under 17 feet deep. However, Gilbert said his knowledge of the case was that the pipe was substandard to the usage it would undergo and was also buried deeper than the regulatory 17 feet.
According to both Edge and Gilbert, the Bacho Development is connected to the city’s drainage system. However, Gilbert said he had found few documents relating to the physical features, ponds and sinkholes on the property where the flooding occurs.
Edge also stated West Fifth Street and Ky. 192 are both state roadways and that the responsibility lies more with the state Department Of Transportation than the City.
The multi-party lawsuit names Laurel Properties LLC; London Medical Properties LLC; Renaissance Medical LLC; and Rob Hill Properties Inc. as the plaintiffs; with Eye Deal Eye Care PLLC and Insight Properties LLC as intervening plaintiffs. The defendants include the City of London; Big Blue Enterprises LLC; Commonwealth of Kentucky Department of Transportation; Albert Robinson, individually, as realtor and developer of the Bacho properties; and Rahul Enterprises.
The trial, originally set to last all week, may end earlier than expected. Hovious believes it will conclude by Wednesday.