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Over $20 million verdict for negligent stormwater management by Borough

Camden County jurors recently returned a unanimous $21.8 million verdict in a suit claiming negligent stormwater maintenance by the Borough of Haddonfield. The Borough’s negligence led to flooding that severely damaged four houses.
On June 20, 2019, Plaintiffs properties were inundated by floodwaters and fecal matter caused by backups in the Borough’s stormwater management system. While the plaintiffs’ homes have been cleaned and repaired, the stench of sewage remains. Former FEMA associate general counsel testified that the four properties were no longer marketable. The homes were valued at $350,000, $700,000, $800,000 and $1.3 million.
It was alleged that Haddonfield failed to perform any pre-flood monitoring, maintenance, inspection or cleaning of its stormwater management system, other than cleaning sewer grates on the street. The Borough also lacked measures such as retention basins to slow down the flow of stormwater during a major storm, as was the case here. Haddonfield argued that the June 2019 storm was unusually severe, and the plaintiffs’ properties were harmed because they were on low-lying lands. Plaintiffs presented a memo from 1994 by Haddonfield’s director of public works. The memo highlighted his concerns about the area where the plaintiffs’ houses lie, and that the Borough should take steps to lessen the risk of flooding in that area.
It appears the Borough has been on notice of these concerns since 1994 and failed to act until this jury issued the above verdict. This decision is a cautionary tale for municipalities to maintain their stormwater systems.
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