A couple who sued the city of Palos Verdes Estates, alleging that their home was undermined by water from a faulty city storm drain, will receive more than $1 million under terms of settlement reached last week.
Edward and Constance Messinger, who purchased their two-bedroom home at 1009 Palos Verdes Drive West 11 years ago, will sell the residence to the city for $1,025,000, and the couple must move out of the house within nine months.
The city's insurance carrier will pay $975,000 of the settlement, and California Water Service, a company that the couple alleged failed to maintain and repair some leaky water pipes under a nearby roadway, will pay $50,000. Neither the city or the company has admitted liability.
The suit is one of 11 lodged against Palos Verdes Estates that allege negligence in designing city storm drains in the Bluff Cove area, and the third suit to be settled. In February, the city paid Richard and Anne Kazan $1.675 million for their five-bedroom home on the same street as the Messingers'.
Covered by Insurance
Mayor James Kinney said he is pleased with the settlements, "primarily because the total amounts are coming from the insurance carriers." He added that the city hopes to settle the other cases without trials.
"Defending these cases has been an economic burden to the city and has been like a cloud over our whole economic structure," he said. "Eliminating them is a top priority of the city so we can get on with normal business without having to be concerned that these cases will be a liability to the city."
The Messingers declined to discuss the settlement.
C. Peter Anderson of Claremont, lead attorney for the owners of five of the homes, said that while the Messingers do not believe that the settlement amount is enough, Edward Messinger has been in poor health and was anxious to settle.
The couple, in their 60s, had originally sought close to $2 million in damages from the city, the attorney said.
Return to Court
Anderson said that the remainder of his clients are attempting to reach settlements with the city with the help of Torrance Superior Court Judge George Perkovich Jr. The homeowners and the city are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 4. If settlements have not been reached, the cases will go to trial Nov. 4, Anderson said.
The Messingers and the other homeowners represented by Anderson claim that their property was undermined by water as a result of a faulty storm drainage system. The system, constructed in the 1930s, broke on several occasions, twice in 1980, according to Anderson.
The attorney said the Messingers' home, which overlooks the Pacific, has cracks in the foundation, the living room is "tilting seaward" and portions of the yard have slipped away. The home will eventually be destroyed by land movement, he said.
Anderson said the settlement amount included compensation for the home as well as for the emotional distress the couple has suffered.
Recover Defense Costs
City Manager Gordon Siebert said the city has spent $700,000 in defending all of the cases so far. The city is trying to determine how much of that money it can recover from its insurance carriers, he said.
The city replaced the Bluff Cove storm drain last year, Kinney said. He said repair or replacement of most of the city's storm drains is a top priority in a 10-year, $10-million capital improvement program financed through a city utility tax.
Kinney said drains are being brought up to county standards and are being turned over to the county Flood Control District, which will maintain them and assume liability. The Bluff Cove system has already been turned over to the county, he said.