Judge throws out class action against Saint John over leaky pipes

·3 min read
A Court of Queen's Bench judge sided with the City of Saint John in a class action lawsuit alleging its negligence caused leaky pipes and damage to residential properties and appliances. (Julia Wright/CBC file photo - image credit)
A Court of Queen's Bench judge sided with the City of Saint John in a class action lawsuit alleging its negligence caused leaky pipes and damage to residential properties and appliances. (Julia Wright/CBC file photo - image credit)

A New Brunswick judge has tossed out a class action lawsuit against the City of Saint John that flowed from alleged damage to homes and appliances caused by leaky pipes.

In her decision released on Tuesday, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Tracey DeWare found the city did not breach its standard of care when it switched the water source for about 5,600 west side Saint John customers back in 2017.

As a result, she said the city does not owe the complainants for damages they alleged to have suffered as a result.

"While the Court accepts the Class Members submission that the City owed them a private law duty of care in this case, the City did not breach the standard of care and therefore, the claims in negligence cannot proceed," DeWare wrote.

DeWare also ordered the city be entitled to costs of $25,000 plus taxable disbursements.

Disappointment in decision

Contacted by phone Tuesday afternoon, Frances Brownell, one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, was not happy with the decision.

"Obviously I'm disappointed that that was the decision, but there's nothing more I can do about it," she said. "To me it was a waste of everybody's energy."

The lawsuit was filed in 2018 and led by Brownell and Cheryl Steadman, who declined to comment Tuesday.

Connell Smith, CBC
Connell Smith, CBC

The city switched the west Saint John water source from the Spruce Lake Reservoir to a collection of drilled wells in the South Bay area as part of the Safe Clean Drinking Water project.

Shortly after, residents in the area began complaining of leaking copper pipes and costly water damage.

Other complaints included failed appliances, such as dishwashers, washing machines and hot-water tanks, as well as skin irritatation.

A consultant's report, submitted to city council earlier this year, found the change in the water source to alkaline-based hard water, from soft and acidic, weakened the scaly material that had built up over decades in the pipes, which eventually caused leaks.

The sediment was all that was keeping some of the pipes together, according to CBCL Ltd., an engineering consulting firm.

The $40,000 report concludes what happened in west Saint John would not have been among the "anticipated outcomes" of the water changeover.

The class members alleged the city was "negligent and breached duties of care" by failing to "adequately test, analyze and/or review the distinct chemistry of the new water source and condition of the water pipes before, during and after the switchover."

Weighing standard of care

DeWare said she considered evidence from experts Dr. Bryan Karney and that of Kenneth Maltese, who presented on behalf of the claimants.

She said based on the evidence, she was satisfied the city engaged the necessary experts and collected all relevant information in order to properly manage the change in water source for west Saint John.

"In all of the circumstances, I am persuaded that the best information available to the City in September 2017 was that the only treatment necessary for the water from from the South Bay Wellfield was chlorination.

"I further accept that, while the City was alive to the issue of corrosion control when any water transition is taking place, the advice provided which was gleaned from industry practice and experience was that no corrosion control measures were necessary."

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