The city of Gainesville was not liable for flooding from Flat Creek that swamped a trailer park off the Pearl Nix Parkway extension, a Hall County jury decided Friday.
The verdict ended four years of litigation brought by Melissa Reidling and Buncum Lightsey, owners of Downtown Properties, which operates the Downtowner Mobile Home Park located near the banks of Flat Creek on McConnell Drive. The plaintiffs alleged that the city, during the 2001 construction of the Pearl Nix Parkway extension, allowed a subcontractor to fill an undeveloped lot that served as a flood plain with as much as 50,000 cubic yards of construction debris. They alleged that the ensuing change in topography caused runoff that created flooding problems at the creek during heavy rains.
The plaintiffs also alleged that over the years, the city inappropriately allowed the development of new construction with impervious surfaces along the Flat Creek watershed, which gradually created runoff problems that were exacerbated by the fill dirt.
At least 17 mobile homes had some five feet of water in them during a flood from a June 2001 rainfall, according to the plaintiffs. The nearby Complete Auto Parts store also had recurring flooding issues.
The jury of eight men and four women took a little more than four hours to arrive at a verdict in favor of the defendant after hearing a week of evidence and arguments in Hall County Superior Court.
Juror Russell Fuller said afterward that while he believed the 100 square yards of dirt and debris, which created a wall some 30 feet high, may have contributed to the flooding problem, the plaintiffs still assumed a risk when they bought property near a flood plain.
"The city actually made the flooding worse," Fuller said. "We all felt that the city has a problem with the Flat Creek area. But the way we were presented the case and the way the law was given to us, we didn't have any choice but to find for the city."
Fuller said the city was within its rights to dispose of the debris on the property, located between the Pearl Nix Parkway extension and Flat Creek. "I feel if it's your property, you ought to be able to do what you want to with it, and that property belonged to the city," Fuller said.
The lawsuit went to the Georgia Court of Appeals twice prior to trial on issues of whether the defendants had sovereign immunity. The Georgia Department of Transportation, which helped design the extension, was a defendant in the suit until Thursday. Senior Superior Court Judge John Girardeau granted a motion for directed verdict, finding there was insufficient evidence for a jury to find against the DOT. At issue was whether the DOT's design met professional standards.
Attorney Phil Fridus, who represented the city, said the jury's verdict reflected the city's belief that it was not at fault for problems at the mobile home park. "I believe the jury understood that the folks who bought the mobile home park clearly understood they were buying property in the middle of a flood plain and undertook to assume that risk," Fridus said.