Jury's verdict is in county's favor by David Lias A Clay County jury has determined that flood damage to the real property, home and outbuildings of Terry and Lori LaFleur in July 1998 is not the county�s fault.
The LaFleurs took the county to court earlier this month, claiming that road ditches near their residence weren�t maintained properly.
The trial, held in the Clay County Courthouse, ended Sept. 9 when the jury decided in favor of the county on all claims made by the LaFleurs.
The LaFleurs maintained that, over time, they have repeatedly requested that Clay County meet its responsibilities by relieving water drainage problems near their property by cleaning and maintaining culverts in the road ditches nearby. According to court documents, a severe thunderstorm rolled through the county July 6, 1998, inundating the Greenfield area with over three inches of rain in approximately two hours. A culvert near the LaFleur property became clogged with branches, corn stalks and other debris, blocking water at the east end of the culvert and sending flood waters over 311th Street to the south in and around the LaFleurs� home and outbuildings.
According to the complaint filed with the First Judicial Circuit Court Dec. 15, 1998, the LaFleurs contacted county commissioners Todd Christensen and Gerald Sommervold, and requested a county backhoe to immediately unplug the culvert.
Flood damage had not yet occurred to the LaFleurs� property when the two commissioners arrived. Christensen and Sommervold decided not to call a backhoe.
The complaint states that approximately three hours after the two commissioners left the LaFleur residence, continually rising water flooded their real property, home and other buildings.
The county dispatched a backhoe to the culvert on July 7, 1998. It cleared the east side of the culvert, allowing water to flow to the west, and the decreasing the flood water levels to normal in a matter of minutes.
The LaFleurs maintain that the county�s failure to send a backhoe to the culvert earlier constituted oppressive or malicious conduct, entitling them to recovery punitive damages totaling $100,000.
The LaFleurs also claimed they suffered compensatory property damage, pecuniary loss and emotional distress in excess of approximately $45,000.
Clay County filed an answer to the LaFleurs� complaint with the First Judicial Circuit Feb. 9.
The county�s allegations in the document included these claims:
? The LaFleurs� complaint fails to state a claim against Clay County.
? The LaFleurs� damages were contributed to or caused by the LaFleurs� own negligence.
? The Doctrine of Sovereign Immunity bars any right of recovery by the LaFleurs against the county. The county also claimed that the LaFleurs were barred any right of recovery because the LaFleurs failed to mitigate their damages, and their injuries and damages, if any, were caused by intervening and superseding causes.
? The LaFleurs� damages were contributed to or caused by third parties over whom the county had no control and for whom the county can�t be held liable.
? The LaFleurs� injuries and damages, if any, were caused by an act of God thereby barring any right of recovery against the county.
This case was handled by the county�s insurance carrier. The county was represented in court by Lon J. Kouri, an attorney with the law firm of May, Johnson, Doyle and Becker in Sioux Falls.
The LaFleurs� attorney was James McCulloch of Vermillion.