Washington's public water system has faced its share of bad press in the past, but the city recently fended off a lawsuit claiming the water was so corrosive it caused leaks in copper piping.
The owner of residential apartment buildings in Northwest Washington sued D.C. Water in 2003, accusing the agency of delivering water to the public that was so excessively corrosive that it caused small leaks in the buildings' copper piping. The trial judge found in favor of D.C. Water.
A three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals on July 3 upheld the lower court ruling, which said the plaintiff failed to present enough evidence that D.C. Water's actions caused the leaks. D.C. Water supplies drinking water and wastewater collection in Washington.
Lead attorney for D.C. Water, James Slaughter of Beveridge & Diamond, said today that he and his client were glad the litigation, which had lasted a decade, was over.
"D.C. Water's experts demonstrated that all older buildings will eventually develop some pinhole leaks and that there are many factors that can cause it, old age being the primary factor," Slaughter said. D.C. Water, he added, was glad the appeals court also noted the trial judge's finding that the water was safe for consumption.
Washington solo practitioner Peter Enslein, who argued for the plaintiff, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The trial judge in D.C. Superior Court heard testimony from competing experts on the owner's claims that the water had elevated aluminum and pH levels that caused the corrosion. D.C. Water's expert said the leaks were due to poor workmanship in the piping system and other causes unrelated to the agency's distribution system.
Following a bench trial, the court ruled in favor of D.C. Water. The owner appealed, arguing that the judge made several errors, including not allowing testimony on leaks at another nearby property and rejecting claims based on a lack of evidence of leaks at one of the properties and that D.C. Water's actions caused the leaks at the other buildings.
Judge Stephen Glickman, writing for the appeals court, rejected the owner's arguments. The record, Glickman wrote, supported the judge's finding that there wasn't enough evidence to prove D.C. Water's system caused the leaks.
"[T]he court simply was not persuaded by a preponderance of the evidence that WASA had 'caused the water to be excessively corrosive,' i.e., that it bore any responsibility for the leaks," Glickman wrote (emphasis in original.)
Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby and Senior Judge Frank Nebeker also heard the case.