WASA to pay Laventille owner $1.2m for home destroyed by burst main

Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland. File photo by Sureash Cholai
Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland. File photo by Sureash Cholai

The state-owned Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) has been accused of forcing a home owner whose property was destroyed by a leaking main to take her case for compensation to trial.

Less than three months after the Privy Council held a similar lawsuit should not have been appealed, “as it was bound to fail,” a High Court judge expressed similar sentiments in a judgment in which she awarded the home owner $1.2 million.

That figure is likely to balloon to closer to $2 million as the judge also ordered a total of six per cent – three in special damages and three in general damages – covering the period January 9, 2009-March 20, 2023, plus costs.

In her ruling on Monday, Justice Joan Charles held WASA liable for negligence and nuisance for the destruction of Janet Bernard Rousseau’s home at Upper Pashley Street, Success Village, Laventille.

Rousseau was represented by attorney Keith Scotland and Karine Dookie. Robin Otway and Summer Sandy represented WASA.

“I am of the view that the defendant should not have forced the claimant to take this case to trial, given that it was more than likely that her house had been destroyed as a result of the defendant’s leaking water main,” Charles said in her decision.

The $933,461 in special damages represented the cost of replacing Rousseau’s home and the cost of the survey reports. For breach of statutory duty for failing to repair a burst water main which destroyed the house, WASA was ordered to pay $120,000. For nuisance, WASA was ordered to pay $150,000.

In her ruling, the judge said from the reports submitted to the court, the leaking broken main caused water to seep into and saturate the soil under Rousseau’s home, leading to the destruction of the house.

“None of the evidence adduced by the defendant was able to weaken the claimant’s case that her house had been destroyed by water leaking onto her property from the defendant’s water main,” the judge said, describing WASA’s evidence was of “little or no value.”

According to the evidence, in 2003, Rousseau finished building her home, but soon after, cracks began appearing in the walls.

At the same time, a water main on Morgan Lane broke, and the water seeped into Rousseau’s land.

She wrote several letters to WASA complaining about the burst water main and the fact that water was seeping into her property, damaging her house.

WASA acknowledged receipt of her complaint and told her it had addressed her concern by repairing a burst main in Arima. The reference to Arima was an error, WASA said in its defence.

A structural engineer reported the damage to her house was not repairable, and the saturated soil was found beneath her house and the road.

Rousseau continued to complain to WASA and in 2007, the pipeline was eventually repaired, but not before it had already caused “irreparable damage.”

A valuation report said the collapse of the building was “imminent.”

The judge said, “In determining that water from the defendant’s mains was responsible for the destruction of the claimant’s house, I took into consideration the fact that the claimant’s experts visited her property in the dry season yet still discovered evidence of moisture in the soil.

“There was no surface spring, rainwater run off or lack of guttering from neighbouring properties. Additionally, the evidence that the claimant’s property was not located in any landslip areas was not disputed or undermined.

“The evidence before me, however, is that the defendant’s mains, which are subterranean in the Morgan Street/Pashley Street areas, would have been affected by the landslips in the area causing them to rupture and leak water into the soil of the claimant’s property.”

Charles said WASA’s own witness testified it was likely there was a main adjacent to her property in 2004/2005 which ruptured because of a landslide, causing an underground flow of water to Rousseau’s home.

“He also opined that this leaking main could have existed since 2002 and would have been a factor in the collapse of the claimant’s property.”

WASA admitted in June 2001-November 2003, there were four leaks to its system in the Morgan Lane area, but said those were repaired. It also said a “systemic sounding” of the main pipeline showed it was intact and not leaking in 2005, and that Rousseau's house was built on a continuously moving steeply sloping hillside, which caused the damage, and not any of its water mains.

Testifying at the trial for Rousseau were a quantity surveyor, a civil engineer who referred to a UWI report on water sources in the Pashley Street area, and a structural engineer, as well as herself.

The utility brought an engineer, an area manager for Morvant/Laventille, a senior IT officer, an expert who prepared a geological assessment of the area, a hydrologist and a civil engineer.


"WASA to pay Laventille owner $1.2m for home destroyed by burst main"

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