Texas Supreme Court rules for Harris County residents in water damage lawsuit over flooding caused by upstream real estate development

by John Chapman

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that 400 residents and homeowners located in Harris County can proceed with a lawsuit against county officials for causing water damage to their homes by approving plans for housing developments without properly planning for water runoff. In a narrowly decided 5-4 ruling, the state Supreme Court upheld an appellate court decision to allow the residents’ water damage lawsuit against Harris County to proceed to trial.

In their lawsuit against the county, the residents allege that officials approved several real estate development projects in White Oak Bayou that were located upstream from the residents’ homes. At the same time, county officials also deviated from a flood mitigation plan that was designed for 100-year flood levels, instead opting to plan only for 10-year flood levels. By doing so, the residents allege, the new developments located upstream were sure to result in flood water damage to their property.

Between 1998 and 2002, the residents suffered flood damage to their property following a series of three powerful storms. The lawsuit alleges that this water damage was a direct result of the decisions by Harris County officials to approve the White Oak Bayou real estate developments and, in doing so, to plan only for a 10-year flood mitigation strategy.

Harris County officials argued that they did not intend for the flood damage to the residents’ property to occur, and stated that flood control districts existed only for the purposes of preventing storm water runoff and not water damage caused by new developments. However, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that county officials had known “for several decades” that new developments in one area of the watershed could lead to flooding in other parts of the county. The court also ruled that the county was aware that by not requiring on-site detention ponds in the new development plans, it was only protecting nearby developments from 10-year flood levels.

The four dissenting justices argued that the court’s decision would encourage governments to do nothing to prevent flooding because the homeowners would have no basis for the claims made in their lawsuit if county officials had not put flood plans into place.  They also argued that the majority’s ruling unnecessarily expanded the state’s takings liability. However, the majority ruled that the Harris County water damage case was different from similar flooding lawsuits because of evidence that the county was aware that its decision to approve the new developments and change its flood mitigation strategy would lead to flooding that could cause property damage.

Texas Water Damage Lawsuits Filed By Heygood, Orr & Pearson

If your home or property has suffered water damage as a result of wrongful actions on the part of a neighbor, nearby business, or property owner, you may qualify to file a lawsuit and seek compensation. The Texas Water Code contains specific rules regarding water damage to another person’s property caused by diverting or impounding water.

The cost of water damage restoration to a property that has been damaged by improperly diverted water can be enormous. In addition to surface damage to a home caused by flooding, excessive water can weaken the structure or foundation of a home or property, necessitating costly repairs. Excessive water may also cause mold growth in a building, which can be time consuming and expensive to eliminate.

Although water damage may seem easy to identify, the process of proving that a neighbor or nearby property owner is responsible for this damage can be a complicated process. In order to prove that illegal water damage has occurred, depositions must be collected from the parties to the lawsuit in order to establish the facts of the case. Documents regarding the properties in question, insurance policies relevant to the case, and evaluations of the damages suffered by the person who filed the lawsuit may also need to be collected in order to determine establish a case.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have years of experience in lawsuit involving commercial disputes, insurance claims, and other legal matters. In January 2015, our law firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of Texas homeowners whose property was damaged as a result of water damage and flooding caused by a neighboring landowner. Heygood, Orr & Pearson has represented other parties in disputes regarding water damage and diversion of water.

The first step in determining whether you may be eligible to file a lawsuit regarding a water damage claim is to speak with an experienced attorney regarding your case. For a free legal consultation about your legal rights, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form.