Owners Recover for Sewage Spill

November 28, 2006 | The Republican
By Peter Goonan

Chicopee—The city was recently cleared of negligence regarding a sewage backflow incident in 2003 that triggered condemnation of a Sheridan Street home, but a local plumber was found liable and was ordered to pay $265,000 plus interest to the former homeowners.

Bonnie Brown-Rae and Douglas Rae Jr., the former residents of the house at 149 Sheridan St., had filed a civil suit in Housing Court-Western District against several defendants including the city and a plumber hired by the home builder: Joseph Specht, doing business as J&S Plumbing, of Chicopee.

A jury found just Specht liable, and he was ordered this month to pay $260,000 plus interest to Bonnie Brown-Rae, and $5,000 to Douglas Rae Jr., according to court documents.

Lawyer John E. Garber, of Northampton, representing the Raes, said yesterday the couple was never able to return to the house, built in 2000, and subsequently sold the property.

“It's every homeowner's nightmare,” Garber said. “She wakes up in the middle of the night and sees a four-foot geyser of raw sewage spewing out of her toilet. All through the first floor, living room, kitchen, it was everywhere, two feet (deep) in the basement.”

John A. Cvejanovich, a Springfield lawyer representing Specht, filed a motion yesterday asking Judge William H. Abrashkin to consider reversing the jury finding. A hearing date is pending.

He said Specht had never been sued in 50 years in the plumbing business and always took great pride in his work.

Garber said the evidence clearly showed that Specht was negligent. Specht had failed to install a backwater valve to prevent sewage backups when he did plumbing work in the home, Garber said.

The backwater valve was required under a 1997 city ordinance, Garber said.

The case against the city was dismissed by Abrashkin, who also dismissed the case against the builders of the house, LaCrosse Builders Inc., and a real estate company.

Associate City Solicitor William J. O'Grady said there was no negligence on the city's part.

“Our wastewater treatment superintendent testified as to maintenance procedures, and this was in fact the first backup we ever had in that vicinity,” O'Grady said.

Mayor Michael D. Bissonnette said the case “shows the city will not simply settle every claim made against it.” The city's liability could have been more than $200,000, he said.