Appeals Court Allows Suit Against Firm in Pennsylvania Flood Deaths

December 13, 2016

An appeals court has cleared the way for refiling of a lawsuit against an engineering firm in the deaths of four people killed in flash flooding in Pittsburgh more than five years ago.

Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. earlier dismissed claims against Chester Engineers Inc., which acted as consulting engineer and construction manager for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the firm should have warned of the danger before the August 2011 flash flood on Washington Boulevard in Highland Park that killed Kimberly Griffith, 46, her daughters, Brenna, 12, and Mikaela, 8, all of Plum, and Mary Saflin, 72, of Oakmont.

The judge said the attorneys had failed to plead causation and hadn’t established that the firm had a duty to provide information to officials about maintenance of the water and sewer systems. But the state Superior Court on Friday disagreed on the causation issue and said the plaintiffs should have been allowed to amend their suit to address concerns about the company’s duty.

“We are grateful that the court has allowed us to go forward with our claim against Chester Engineers,” said attorney Alan Perer, who represents the Griffith family. “So many responsible parties failed to address a known deadly condition, and Chester Engineers shares in that failure.” Company representatives didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

The city and its water and sewer authority, along with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and county sanitary authority, earlier settled legal action in the case. Because the defendants were government entities, the damages were limited under state law.

The plaintiffs said at least 30 flash floods had stranded vehicles in the same spot since one person was killed and 12 were injured in a flood June 9, 1951, but nothing was done to improve the road or storm sewers.

PennDOT has since installed three gates that keep traffic off the low-lying section of road. The gates are activated by water pressure sensors during heavy rain.

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