Another Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Over Fernley Flood

Three law firms have filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of victims of last weekend's Fernley flood - the second such complaint in two days.

In their suit filed Friday in Lyon County District Court in Yerington, the Reno firms of Maddox & Associates, Leverty & Associates and Dunlap & Laxalt are seeking unspecified damages from the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District.

The complaint came a day after Reno lawyer Robert Hagar filed a
suit in Washoe County District Court on behalf of Judy Kroshus, whose home was among hundreds flooded after a storm-swollen irrigation canal ruptured Jan. 5. That suit, which also seeks class-action status, names the irrigation district, local governments and homebuilders as defendants.

Both lawsuits allege that the irrigation district did not properly maintain the canal and failed to minimize damage once the breach occurred in the fast-growing town 30 miles east of Reno.

Ernie Schank, TCID president, said the district reacted as quickly as possible after learning about the rupture, which was reported at about 4:20 a.m.

"This will be a complex case," lawyer Cal Dunlap told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "A lot of this is unknown territory. It's not immediately clear which laws apply."

Judges will have to certify the lawsuits as class actions, meaning that the suits represent all plaintiffs affected by the flood.

"It's unusual for two class actions to be certified," said Jeffrey Stempel, a law professor at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "Filing first is always an advantage."

Stempel maintained the irrigation district generally would be liable for flood damage.

"If you've penned up an animal and the animal escaped and hurt
someone, it's usually your responsibility," he said. "In this case, the district penned up water and it got away from them."

The irrigation district operates the canal under a contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns it.

Schank has said he realizes the district will be targeted by lawsuits, but was unsure whether it's liable for flood damage.

Betsy Rieke, area manager for the reclamation bureau, has said her agency thinks the district would be liable.

Rieke's agency continues to investigate the cause of the breach, which occurred after unusually heavy rain.
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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-01-12-08 1710EST


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