Company sued over massive water outage wants trial moved out of Montgomery County

Workers watch the Great Miami River near the Keowee Street Bridge.  A  large water main break on Feb. 14, 2019 cut water service to much of the County and most of it was restored days later.  MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF
Workers watch the Great Miami River near the Keowee Street Bridge. A large water main break on Feb. 14, 2019 cut water service to much of the County and most of it was restored days later. MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Attorneys for the bridge company the city of Dayton has sued over the massive 2019 water main break have requested a change of venue, saying they won’t get a fair trial in Montgomery County.

The Sidney-based Eagle Bridge Co.'s attorneys filed a motion on Sept. 25 to move the trial, about a month after a Montgomery County Common Pleas Court judge denied their request to dismiss the lawsuit.

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The city has opposed the company’s request.

“It is our feeling that it’s going to be very difficult to get a fair trial in Montgomery county, when it’s the water department supplying water to the customers and the customers are going to potentially be jurors in the case,” Paul D. Eklund, one of the attorneys representing the Eagle Bridge Co., said. “So we believe that it was a problem, it’s a problem for both sides.”

The Dayton water department provides water to more than 400,000 people in the city and Montgomery County.

The lawsuit stems from a February 2019 incident when a water main in the middle of the Great Miami River near the Keowee Street Bridge busted, leaving customers without clean drinking water. Businesses and schools were affected, and all customers were forced to adhere to a countywide boil advisory for more than 40 hours. The damage caused more than 150 million gallons of treated water to spill into the Great Miami River.

The city’s suit seeks more than $2 million from Eagle Bridge Co., claiming injury to its reputation that could impede Dayton from gaining future water customers.

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Montgomery County hired Eagle Bridge Co. to repair the bridge. The city alleged that the company improperly designed and built a causeway, and failed to properly armor the banks of the river, which led to erosion and the rupture of the 36-inch water main.

Eagle Bridge has said it’s not responsible for the water main break. In court filings, the company said the temporary causeway was approved by Montgomery County, which contracted with Eagle to build the bridge, as well as the Miami Conservancy District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the project.

John C. Musto, an attorney who represents Dayton, said the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation. On Oct. 9 he filed a motion expressing the city’s opposition to Eagle’s request for a change of venue. The notion that Eagle will not get a fair trial in Montgomery County is false for various reasons, according to the city’s court filing.

When a jury trial is scheduled, it likely will be more than a year away, and any prejudice jurors may have will be forgotten by then, the city said in its filing.

“By the defendant’s logic, any large lawsuit brought by a city or a county to recoup taxpayer funds within the county would have to be moved to an adjacent county because of financial interest,” according to Dayton’s motion. “Likewise, the state of Ohio would be unable to sue a company to recover damages in the state because a jury composed of the state’s taxpayers could not be fair and impartial.”

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