New Brunswick

Saint John faces class-action lawsuit over west side water woes

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the City of Saint John on behalf of west side residents faced with leaking pipes and costly repairs they allege are the result of their water source being changed as part of system upgrades.

City accused of negligence and breach of contract in connection with recent water source switch

About 5,600 customers on the city's west side were switched over to water drawn from the South Bay Wellfield in September. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the City of Saint John on behalf of west side residents faced with leaking pipes and costly repairs they allege are due to their water source being changed as part of system upgrades.

The statement of claim alleges the city was "negligent and breached duties of care" by failing to "adequately test, analyze and/or review the distinct chemistry of the new water source and condition of the water pipes before, during and after the switchover."

The city also failed to "adequately design, construct, inspect, repair, maintain, operate and supervise the water supply and distribution system," according to the statement of claim, filed with the Court of Queen's Bench Wednesday on behalf of the two representative plaintiffs — Frances Brownell and Cheryl Steadman — and other members.

In addition, the city is accused of breach of contract in that "there was an implied term that the water supplied would be fit for the purpose and would not damage the water distribution system."

The lawsuit is seeking damages to cover existing and future costs of repairing structural damage, and repairing or replacing pipes, appliances and other equipment.

It also seeks to have the pipes, appliances and equipment of every member tested at least twice during the next year and calls for compensation for reduced property values.

None of the allegations in the statement of claim have been proven in court and the lawsuit has not yet been certified.

Mayor Don Darling faced an angry crowd of west side residents during the meeting he hosted Feb. 8 (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

The city has not yet filed a statement of defence, but Mayor Don Darling told CBC News the city is aware the action has been filed.

"The matter is currently under review, and the City is not in a position to comment," he said in an emailed statement.

The lawsuit comes less than a week after Darling faced about 350 angry west side residents who threatened to take legal action if the water problems weren't resolved soon.

It's unclear how many people have signed up for the lawsuit so far. Saint John lawyer Rodney Gillis, who filed the suit, could not immediately be reached for comment.

In September, about 5,600 customers on the city's west side were switched over to water drawn from the South Bay Wellfield instead of the Spruce Lake Reservoir as part of the Safe Clean Drinking Water project.

As of Feb. 6, 107 customers serviced with the new ground water source have filed complaints of leaking pipes. One resident at the Feb. 8 community meeting said it cost him $16,000 to repair the damage at his home.

Other complaints have included water heater problems, irritated skin and stained dishes.

The statement of claim was filed with the Court of Queen's Bench in Saint John on Feb. 14. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

The lawsuit alleges the city switched the affected residents to a new well source, knowing the water had "distinct physical and chemical properties."

That "distinct chemistry" descaled their water pipes, damaging them and/or causing them to fail, the document claims.

Similarly, the new water caused their appliances, water heaters and other equipment to "be damaged and/or fail."

The lawsuit alleges the city failed to collect, calculate, analyze and/or inspect the data of both the "distinct chemistry and/or pressure in a timely manner or at all."

The city is also accused of "deliberately creating and [increasing] the hazards, threats and dangers that arose by changing the water source."

The "acts and omissions" of the city were conducted in a "reckless and grossly negligent matter," the statement of claim alleges.

"An award of punitive damages to recognize the purposes of class actions, protect consumers and to punish and deter wrongful corporate conduct is entirely appropriate," it states.

The lawsuit is also seeking damages for loss of use and enjoyment of real property, loss of the amenities of life, and for mental, emotional and psychological harm, including loss of the enjoyment of life.

Other remedies sought include costs, interest and other relief, yet to be determined.