New Mexico Town Could Be Liable for Residents’ Flood Damage

December 2, 2010

More than a dozen Farmington, N.M., residents and businesses have put the city on notice that they want reimbursement for damages caused by flooding in August.

Some 14 claims have been filed, meeting a 90-day deadline to file tort claim notices on reimbursement requests for cleanup costs the city had denied.

City Attorney Jay Burnham said no one has filed a lawsuit against the city. Under state law, residents had 90 days to file tort claim notices, which allow them to sue. They have two years to file a lawsuit.

More than 100 people reported property damage to the city from flooding that followed heavy rains Aug. 1.

The National Weather Service said more than 2.5 inches of rain fell in about three hours. Similar rainfall occurs in the area on average once every 200 years.

Some residents contend the city is responsible for reimbursing them for flood damage because officials promised to improve infrastructure but did not.

But city officials said the city is not liable for failing to build infrastructure it had planned and is not responsible for design defects of existing infrastructure built to withstand flooding that occurs an average of once every 25 years.

The city paid Frontier Adjusters in Farmington to review 21 claims from people who contended the city was liable for flood damage to their property.

Frontier did not recommend the city reimburse any of those claims, and the city denied nearly all the remaining claims that were not reviewed by the company.

The city agreed only to fix a stucco wall owned by a resident and an exposed sewer main on another resident’s property.

Farmington’s policy is to avoid cleaning or maintaining private property, but the wall posed a public safety hazard. The city made an exception in the second case “due to the city’s exposed sewer main,” according to a letter to the property owner.

The city spent more than $3,400 to fix the sewer main. It has not received an estimate of the cost of the wall.

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