Detroit, Michigan – A groundbreaking decision was recently handed down by the Michigan Court of Appeals regarding the tragic Midland dam flooding of 2010. Following years of negligence, the flood marked one of the darkest chapters in Michigan’s history. Sommers Schwartz, under the leadership of partner Jason J. Thompson, stood at the forefront of the legal battle, championing the rights of the victims.
In 2010, Michigan’s series of hydropower dams, already in dire straits, reached a breaking point. Due to persistent neglect, the dam’s owner had lost their operating license, prompting the State of Michigan to step in. Despite grave warnings about the dam’s frailty, the state took the fateful decision to maintain dangerously high water levels. The inevitable catastrophe arrived when a heavy storm precipitated a flooding disaster that stole the beauty of waterfront property along Wixom Lake, leaving behind a trail of devastation and a lake-less landscape.
Hundreds of affected parties, including homeowners, businesses, and renters who suffered immense losses from the flood, took legal action. Their contention was based on the principle of “inverse condemnation.” This legal tenet, found in both the US and Michigan Constitutions, holds that government actions leading to significant property damage are tantamount to forcibly acquiring said property without due compensation.
The legal battles faced an uphill task as the State of Michigan sought dismissal, contending the inadequacy of the inverse condemnation claims. Their arguments fell on deaf ears in the trial court, leading the State to appeal.
David R. Parker, a pivotal partner at Sommers Schwartz, meticulously prepared for the ensuing appellate discourse. The core issue was whether the victims had a viable claim against the State for not compensating them after indirectly causing the loss of their property.
Mr. Parker pointed out the state’s alarming disregard for the deteriorating dams and their actions that exacerbated the situation. Key decisions such as raising water levels shortly before the disaster, coupled with misleading public statements about the dam’s condition, established the state’s hand in triggering the tragedy.
Drawing parallels with the Flint Water Crises case, the Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs, affirming the legitimacy of their inverse condemnation claims. As with the Flint case, where the State was held accountable for exposing residents to toxic water, the Court recognized the State’s direct actions leading to the dam catastrophe.
Another point of contention was whether the State’s actions equated to using the property for “public use.” While traditionally linked to government-led acquisitions, the concept was interpreted more broadly in this scenario. The State’s efforts to maintain environmental conditions at the cost of human safety and property indicated a public use objective. The Court of Appeals, aligning with this perspective, ruled that the state’s actions indeed constituted public use, thereby obligating them to justly compensate the victims.
This landmark judgment not only paves the way for compensation for the Midland dam flood victims but also stands as a testament to the diligence and determination of Sommers Schwartz, especially Mr. Jason J. Thompson and Mr. David R. Parker, in ensuring justice prevails.
“It is unsettling when your own government harms you. But when they get caught, and they hire lawyers to try and avoid accountability, that is infuriating. Last week, the Court of Appeals rejected the State’s attempt to run from what they did. We won’t stop until the State takes responsibility for what they did to their own citizens,” said attorney Jason J. Thompson.
Homeowners, businesses, and renters who suffered losses from the Midland dam flood are encouraged to content Sommers Schwartz at (248) 355-0300 or visit https://sommerspc.com.
Kriegler v Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and Department of Natural Resources
Court of Appeals of Michigan
Forbes v Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy
Court of Appeals of Michigan
Sommers Schwartz is a powerhouse litigation firm made up of experienced personal injury lawyers, medical malpractice attorneys, commercial and business law attorneys, and employee rights lawyers fighting for unpaid wages and overtime. The law firm serves clients across the country from its offices in Michigan and California.
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Southfield, MI 48076
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