By Jason Dunn
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporter
The effects of a law regarding drainage system lawsuits was one topic of discussion Phil Hanses from the Clinton County Drain Commission brought to the The Clinton County Board of Commissioners March 29.
Hanses, who is responsible for all of the logistical operations regarding drainage in the county, addressed Public Act 222. This piece of legislation was designed to give residents in areas of Michigan the opportunity to sue the government for faulty drainage systems that contributed to property damage.
Hanses described to the board that a few claims have been filed in Clinton County, along with the act’s general significance.
“In Clinton County, we’ve had three PA-222 claims that have been filed this past year. The claim essentially says that a defect in the county drain system causes flooding, and subsequently causes property damage. So we got those claim forms, which get passed to the administration, which eventually gets passed here.”
Hanses went on to describe the historical precedence regarding the act in nearby Detroit, along with how legislation is now under a modification process to cut down on excess public claims.
“As far as legislation there, back a few years ago when they had a lot of the flooding around Detroit, the city received class action lawsuits from thousands and thousands of people who filed these PA-222 claims which basically resulted from various storm events at that time,” he said. “So, now there’s legislation being proposed by the person who drafted the initial legislation to nail down these specific rain events.
“They’re basically saying that rainfall that exceeds a certain amount is basically an act of God and that these drain systems aren’t built to handle extreme rainfall. So, they’re trying to pull that off. But, I don’t know how that will affect us.”
In a separate interview, Hanses described a little more in depth what exactly is being modified.
“The significance is that right now it doesn’t take into account a storm that overwhelms a drainage system. Right now they’re proposing changes to a House Bill in order to adjust the Public Act,” he said. “In instances of rainfall [though], in a certain storm, the claim can only be considered valid if rainfall did not exceed 2.2 inches in any 24 hour period. Because [as previously stated] our drainage systems are just not equipped to handle extreme rainfall.”
Janieasha Freelove-Sewell, a second-year law student at Michigan State University, described the public act as “influential, yet non-specific.”
“The thing about this law, however, is that the law itself is not very specific, so there is a lot of criticism of it. For instance, there is no specific procedure that you go through to sue the government under this act,” she said. “Under the act, ‘it has to be proven that a fundamental failure in its continued application possesses a threat to infrastructure repairs, government budgets and taxpayers throughout the state’.
“So, even with the law being enacted, it still doesn’t help people to be able to get any money or reimbursement due to the government’s negligence. The process takes forever and it continues to take the money of taxpayers. Essentially, it would be up to the judge to decide. Then if another, similar case was introduced, that judge’s ruling would be used as legal precedence. ”
She added that the reasoning behind the development of the act was the need to hold the government liable for any damage caused by government bodies.
“This law is supposed to prevent the government from not taking responsibility when there is property damage due to sewer backups. In the past, the government would not be liable if there was any sewer damage because typically, the government has immunity when someone tried to sue the government,” she said. “Now, there is an opportunity to sue the government if there is actual damage.”
It is unknown at this time, whether or not modified legislation will successfully reduce the amount of public claims, though.