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Varnum Wins $7.6 Million Jury Verdict

February 17, 2020

Firm Prevails on Behalf of Plaza Towers in Two-Week Trial Against City of Grand Rapids

Following a two-week trial with eight witnesses including a host of experts, a jury returned a $7.6 million verdict in the matter of Plaza Towers Condominium Association v. City of Grand Rapids. The verdict brings to a close the seven-year battle over responsibility for flood damage when the Grand River reached historic levels in 2013. Varnum represented the Plaza Towers Community in the matter.

Significant damage occurred in 2013 when water from the Grand River flooded the lower floor parking garage of the mixed-use Plaza Towers high rise. About 1000 residents were temporarily displaced when electricity to the building had to be shut off, and vehicles in the parking garage were underwater.

The City contended the flooding was the result of a poor drainage system that allowed groundwater to seep into the building. Varnum attorneys argued that the flooding occurred as a result of the City’s removal of a section of the flood wall, which allowed the cresting waters of the Grand River to flow from the City’s property into the parking garage.

Friday’s verdict was a significant victory in a case that almost didn’t happen. Following the flooding in 2013, Varnum’s involvement in the matter was originally intended to ensure a proper and accurate insurance claim was made on behalf of the client. It was during examination of the property for that purpose that attorneys questioned the City’s responsibility for maintaining floodwaters on its property.

Varnum sued the City, and the case was originally dismissed in Kent County Circuit Court. It was later reversed by the Michigan Court of Appeals. A full day’s mediation just prior to trial resulted in no settlement being offered by the defendants.

“It’s a case that defines government obligations to its private citizen neighbors when it comes to managing storm water,” said Steve Afendoulis, who served as lead trial lawyer.

In addition to Afendoulis, the Varnum trial team included Aaron Phelps and Jeff KoelzerMark Allard provided the original insurance claims work.

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