New Brunswick

West Saint John residents' water lawsuit against city gets green light from court

A court in Saint John has given the go-ahead to a class-action lawsuit launched over changes to the city's west side water system.

City lawyers plan to defend against claims in class action launched by residents

Frances Brownell and Cheryl Steadman are the two plaintiffs named in the class-action lawsuit launched against the City of Saint John on behalf of west side residents. (Connell Smith, CBC)

A court in Saint John has given the go-ahead to a class-action lawsuit launched over changes to the city's west side water system.

The suit springs from a 2017 move by the city to change the water system's source from the Spruce Lake Reservoir to a collection of drilled wells in the South Bay area.

Shortly after the change, residents began to complain of leaking pipes, water damage and failed water heaters.

"It sounds dramatic, but it will affect the rest of my life," west Saint John resident Frances Brownell said Tuesday.

She and fellow west sider Cheryl Steadman are the two plaintiffs whose names are on the lawsuit. 

Earlier Tuesday, lawyers for the plaintiffs and the city said they had agreed to the terms for the certification, and Justice Deborah Hackett of the Court of Queen's Bench formally announced the class action can proceed.  

Brownell, a senior, said her problems began with the discovery of water on the floor of her laundry room. 

A plumber revealed the leaking water pipe had also extensively damaged a downstairs bedroom.

The repairs were made, but new leaks developed and Brownell ended up having her drywall removed in many parts of her home to replace the water pipes entirely.

"As the issues came up, I couldn't deal with them, I had no recourse but to say I can't cover this," she said.

Saint John Mayor Don Darling faced a skeptical crowd at a meeting of west side residents concerned about their drinking water in February 2018. (Joseph Tunney, CBC)

Brownell said she had to dip into her pension to pay for the plumber, carpenter and electrician.

She estimated the repairs cost her $10,000 to $12,000.

The statement of claim alleges, among other things, that the city was negligent when it changed the water supply and exposed property owners' pipes to "a distinct chemistry, which de-scaled those water distribution pipes and caused the water distribution pipes to be damaged and/or fail."

The lawsuit seeks financial compensation for repairs to pipes, damage to homes and appliances, loss of property value, and mental and emotional damage.

Glenn Zakaib, one of the lawyers for the defence, said the municipality's agreement on the terms of certification should not be interpreted as meaning the city does not intend to defend against the suit. 

None of the allegations in the statement of claim have been proven in court.

Both sides plan to apply for a summary judgment by Hackett, meaning the case would either be won or lost without a trial at a court hearing scheduled for May 12, 2020.

Should those motions fail, it could be 2021 or even later before a trial gets underway.

About the Author

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca

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