Slidell erosion lawsuit…

BY SARA PAGONES | Staff writer
Jul 29, 2019 – 2:27 pm
A Slidell couple who claim that an eroding drainage canal is washing away the foundation of their house waited too long to sue the city of Slidell and St. Tammany Parish, a judge ruled in dismissing their suit last week.

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Jason and Vanessa Shaffette sued both governments for damages in May 2016, claiming that the crumbling banks of the W-14 Canal behind their house on Michigan Avenue had eaten away at the home’s foundation, leaving it uninhabitable.
The couple blamed a new culvert placed in the canal, near Slidell Memorial Hospital, which they say increased the volume and velocity of water flowing in the canal that drains rainwater from much of the city.

But 22nd Judicial District Judge Martin Coady cited a state law that limits the window for filing litigation when private property is damaged because of a project undertaken for public purposes. Under the law, a suit has to be filed within two years of the time the public work is completed and accepted or within one year from when the property’s owner “acquired, or should have acquired, knowledge of the damage.”

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The culvert project was completed on April 29, 2011, Coady noted. And while the Shaffettes’ lawsuit says that they didn’t see the erosion problem until late in 2015, the judge said evidence indicated that the plaintiffs had sufficient knowledge well before then of facts “that would have placed a reasonable person on notice that property damages had been sustained related to the W-14 canal.”

He pointed to a homeowners’ insurance claim filed by the Shaffettes in 2013 for cracks in the home’s brick veneer that stemmed from pile driving operations and other construction activity in the W-14 canal.

He also referred to stories in the Slidell Independent newspaper that quoted Jason Shaffette saying he first noticed erosion problems within a year of the work being done.

In a hearing last month on a motion by the city and parish to throw out the lawsuit because of the time limit, Shaffette testified that he did not make such a statement to reporter Kevin Chiri. But Coady referred to Chiri’s testimony that the quotes were “very much what he (Shaffette) communicated to me.” Chiri also testified that the Shaffettes never sought a retraction.

The Shaffettes said they intend to appeal the judge’s ruling.

Slidell City Attorney Bryan Haggerty declined comment, saying the matter is still under litigation. Parish officials did not immediately return a request for comment.

But Julie Quinn, an attorney for the Shaffettes, said the couple could not have filed suit until the damage actually occurred, which she said was not until 2015.

The plaintiffs have also asked the judge to allow them to file an amending petition with a claim of inverse condemnation, a term used when a public entity takes private property but doesn’t pay compensation.

Coady has not granted their request to file that claim, Quinn said, but they will ask again.

The situation “is a complete injustice,” she said. “Both the city and the parish knew about this for years.”

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