Roughly two dozen residents from around the Winbourne Avenue area of Baton Rouge met Wednesday night to express their interest in joining a class-action lawsuit against the City-Parish relating to 2016 flood damage.
The lawsuit has been filed under lead plaintiff Bob Applegate’s name since August 2017 and currently has 158 families signed on, but the file has remained largely dormant in court before now.
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The group alleges that while the 2016 flood was historic and an act of God, the damage to homes in their neighborhood was the result of negligence.
The flood left more than four feet of standing water in Applegate's home on Eaton Street. He said he learned in the aftermath that the city-parish had been completing construction work in the area months prior to the flood, which meant they turned off water valves at each end of Winbourne Avenue.
If those valves had been reopened as they were supposed to be after the public works crew was finished, he claims, the impact of the flooding in his neighborhood would not have been so great.
“Our problem was we had homeowners insurance, but because this was an act of God homeowners didn’t cover it,” Applegate said. “Well, this wasn’t an act of God, this was an act of George or Bill or Brian, whoever left the valves closed and didn’t open them.”
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A spokesperson for Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s office said last week when contacted about the class action suit that they don't comment on pending litigation.
Applegate and attorney Kwame Asante led Wednesday night’s meeting at the Eden Park branch library, which saw roughly two dozen residents come in and out to ask questions and sign up for a mailing list to stay informed about the lawsuit.
Asante said the group is now raising funds to hire a hydrologist to determine the boundaries of the area impacted specifically by the shut-off valves, and to provide expert opinion on water flow in the area.
“Our contention is once we have our hydrologist report then we can go back to the city and say, ‘Hey, step up,’” Applegate said. “Really all we’re asking for the city to do is accept responsibility because then our homeowners (insurance) will cover us.”
But, it may not be that simple for the renters or those who didn’t have insurance. Many residents at the meeting spoke of damaged vehicles left in their front yards, uninsured husks of homes they’ve had to leave behind and businesses that have since closed due to the flood damage.
Applegate and Asante responded to those residents by saying it’s their belief, and the intent of the lawsuit, to put the onus on the city-parish for the negligence they believe can be proven with maintenance records.
The group plans to meet again in March at a date and time yet to be determined.
Even a year after the historic Baton Rouge flood in August 2016, images from the disaster remain eye-popping.
West Wendover Drive is just one block in the city of Baton Rouge out of the estimated 92,000 households statewide affected by the August 2016 flood.
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