San Jose residents affected by a devastating flood in 2017 are finally getting a settlement from the city, but litigation over the natural catastrophe isn’t over.
The San Jose City Council approved a $750,000 settlement Tuesday for more than 250 plaintiffs suing the city for allegedly failing to warn them about flood dangers following heavy rainfall on Feb. 18, 2017 that triggered a 100-year flood. Anderson Reservoir overflowed, displacing 14,000 people in three San Jose neighborhoods and causing approximately $100 million in damages.
Residents affected by the flooding accused San Jose of inadequate emergency preparedness and Valley Water of not maintaining the dam’s infrastructure. Local advocates set up a website to document damages suffered by residents and the “history of negligence” that led to the catastrophic flood.
The city attorney explained in a memo that the settlement is reasonable given the risks of further litigation, noting the plaintiffs’ claimed property damages total approximately $12.6 million. The city denies all allegations, but City Attorney Nora Frimann said the settlement allows the city to “avoid the risks inherent in litigation” — and being on the hook for a much larger amount.
“Plaintiffs claim to have sustained noneconomic or ‘pain and suffering’ damages in an amount that would be determined at trial,” Frimann wrote in the memo. “Even if the city was found nominally liable at trial, such a verdict could mean that the city was responsible for payment of the entire amount of the claimed economic damages. ”
The memo notes each side will bear their own costs and attorney fees. It’s unclear how much of the settlement will be awarded to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The flood heavily damaged part of resident Jean-Marie White’s house in Naglee Park. Insurance covered much of the repairs, but the process was frustrating and time-consuming. He said he’s happy the city settled, but believes Valley Water needs to be held accountable for its failure to protect residents.
“In my opinion the major culprit would be the water district,” White told San José Spotlight. “They’re the ones who are responsible for operating the Anderson Reservoir, which was the source of the problem in the first place.”
Valley Water settled some smaller claims in 2019, but litigation involving scores of residents is still pending in Santa Clara County Superior Court. Initial efforts to put together a settlement between the city and the water district were unsuccessful, according to the city memo. The latest court filings show the parties are in the midst of discovery disputes, including scheduling depositions for numerous plaintiffs.
At least one plaintiff attached to the case, Sandra Moll, believes the settlement is going to be used to fund the litigation against Valley Water.
“There will be no distribution of those funds,” Moll said in an email shared with San José Spotlight. “The attorneys are retaining them to pay for expert witnesses should the Water District actually not settle and we go to trial, now scheduled for May 2022.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not respond to multiple requests for comment.