No Victory for Plaintiff Where Renovations Were Made in Good Faith

Baker v. City of Plattsburgh, 847 N.Y.S.2d 300 (N.Y. App. Div. 2007)

In this case, plaintiff sought recovery of property damages due to water runoff caused by a utilities renovation and paving project carried out by defendants on an adjacent property.  The Supreme Court granted defendants’ summary judgment motion, dismissing the causes of action against them alleging that water runoff caused property damage.  However, defendants’ motion papers did not specifically address the remaining causes of action for trespass, due process rights violations and zoning ordinance violations, and thus those claims remained.

On appeal, the Third Department affirmed, explaining that defendants had satisfied their burden of showing that their efforts to improve the land were made in good faith and that they did not intentionally divert water onto plaintiff’s land.  The court explained the general rule, that “[l]andowners making improvements to their land are not liable for damage caused by any resulting flow of surface water onto abutting property as long as the improvements are made in a good faith effort to enhance the usefulness of the property and no artificial means, such as pipes and drains, are used to divert the water thereon.”

The court also upheld the lower court’s refusal to dismiss defendants’ cross claims for contribution and indemnification from the engineering firm that designed the renovation project.  To be entitled to such dismissal, the engineering firm had to show (1) the project was properly designed to prevent water runoff damage to plaintiff’s property, and (2) the design of the project was unrelated to plaintiff’s remaining claims.

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