GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After two weeks in court and several hours of deliberation, a jury decided that the city of Grand Rapids should pay millions of dollars in damage done to Plaza Towers in the historic 2013 flood.
As the Grand River overflowed its banks in spring 2013, it left a virtual lake in the basement and garage of the downtown Grand Rapids high-rise. Cars were submerged, power went out, tenants were evacuated and the place was temporarily condemned.
The building association, owners and insurance company sued the city of Grand Rapids, blaming a hole cut into the flood wall to allow access to a riverside sculpture park. The city argued it was protected from the suit by an agreement signed during Plaza Towers construction and also said the flooding was the result not of the hole, but rather of building atop a city sewer line.
“The city doesn’t have the right to put water on that property, let alone so much water that it fills up and it’s so high it pushes through the wall,” Steve Afendoulis, Plaza Towers’ attorney, said during closing arguments Friday. “We found fish under the garage. Fish don’t swim through dirt.”
Plaza Towers asked for $17 million, $5 million of which would go to the Massachusetts Bay Insurance Company.
“The hole in the wall was not a substantial cause and that the drainage system was the primary cause,” Geoffrey Fields, the attorney for the city of Grand Rapids, disputed. “The water couldn’t go down because of the drainage system and so it ended up going out at least 25 feet until it burst through.”
He added that the building owners haven’t shown any real damages, saying property values have actually increased since the flood.
But the plaintiffs’ attorney compared the situation to a car being flooded and never again being worth the same as it was. He said the proof of fault and damage is overwhelming.
“The city’s day of reckoning is here,” attorney Bruce Moss, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said. “It’s time for the city to hear that the Constitution isn’t a guidebook, it’s a rulebook. It’s what we live by. You just can’t do it, city: you can’t take your water and put it on our property.”
Closing arguments started Friday around 9 a.m. and the jury came back with a verdict around 7:45 p.m.
They decided that the city should pay $5 million to Massachusetts Bay Insurance Company and $2,641,735 to the Plaza Towers Condominium Association, which is about $10 million less than what the Plaza Towers owners asked for.
It is unclear at this time whether the city will appeal. The city has insurance through a multi-municipal fund that should cover their loss.