Heavy spring rains dumped more than 5 inches of precipitation on Queens, New York in April 2014. Hundreds of structures were flooded, including 2 condominium buildings whose lower levels flooded with sewer discharge.

With record-setting rainfall the apparent cause, the insurer for the buildings was not optimistic about subrogation potential. But news reports seemed to confirm that most of the flooding had occurred near a wastewater treatment plant. Could there be another explanation for this $1 million loss?

We retained a hydrologist with experience in wastewater system design and evaluation. He inspected the scene, interviewed witnesses and analyzed the design and functioning of the city’s combined storm and sewer drainage systems. After studying the pattern of losses, he concluded that a specific set of controls inside a local water retention facility had failed during the storm.

We placed the City of New York on notice, and through the Freedom of Information Act, obtained a copy of the city’s own engineering investigation. It revealed a malfunction at the same facility our engineer had identified. When storm waters could not flow into nearby Jamaica Bay, the city’s drainage systems could not handle the excess volume. The condominium flood losses were a direct result of these system failures.

At first, the city denied our client’s claim. We rapidly filed suit. After discovery, officials agreed to a significant settlement.