AFFECTED HOMEOWNERS GETTING $2,000 EACH
A $6 million settlement agreement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit against Missouri-American Water Company (MAWC) that alleges excessive calcium scaling in the water provided by MAWC caused property damage to its customers’ appliances and plumbing in many Platte County homes.
The class-action lawsuit against Missouri-American Water is on behalf of more than 9,000 residents who claim to have suffered damages to their water-using devices despite the utility company having an earlier awareness.
As a result of the settlement, MAWC has agreed to pay $2,000 in compensation to each affected homeowner that participated in the lawsuit and will pay $2.4 million in expenses and fees to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. In recent weeks, class members received a full and final settlement payment via the United States Postal Service.
The settlement was reached less than two weeks before the trial date.
The complaint, filed by Kansas City-based law firm of Williams Dirks Dameron, asserts the water company failed to ensure that the water it provides its customers was “suitable for ordinary use.”
Jason Strohm of the Thousand Oaks subdivision was the first to publicly accuse the Missouri-American Water Company of supplying metered water that causes calcium scaling that severely damages appliances. Back in February 2016, Strohm gave a sworn testimony before the Missouri Public Service Commission asserting that the water the utility company supplied was “woefully harmful to each and every individual in Platte County.”
Issues began at the end of 2010 when sediment was collected in the filters and aerators on faucets at his residence in the 6600 block of NW Hickory Drive in Parkville. By January 2011, Strohm’s dishwasher stopped working so he solicited the help of a repair technician. After identifying sediment as the cause, it was removed from the appliance.
But four months later the same dishwasher was once again on the fritz. The technician returned to the property and once again cleaned out the dishwater aerator. While he was there, the technician found sediment buildup on the aerator at the kitchen sink, back of the refrigerator, and water heater.
“At this time, the technician identified the problem was likely the sediment,” states court documents.
A short time later, the ice maker and water dispenser of Strohm’s refrigerator stopped working. When a representative from the refrigerator manufacturer came to repair the appliance, sediment was once again found to be the culprit.
Strohm made several complaints to MAWC, claiming the utility company’s defective water caused severe property damage to his refrigerator, water heater, dishwasher, faucets, and toilets.
Despite these repeated complaints, Missouri-American Water failed to rectify the problem.
Finally, Missouri-American Water let the hydrants run for 10 minutes in an attempt to blow out sediment from the water main servicing Strohm’s residence. But that attempt was unsuccessful and failed to remedy or prevent future damage, alleges the complaint.
Following this failed attempt, countless water-using devices continued to break down at Strohm’s residence, prompting him to file a claim against the water company’s insurance policy. But Strohm’s claim was denied and blamed on an “internal” issue.
That same month, Missouri-American Water offered to install an “inline filter” where the water service line entered Strohm’s residence. They alleged the filter would resolve any “internal issues” with his water-using devices. At that time, the water company urged Strohm to sign a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for services rendered.
But the installation of the filter did not remedy the problem. Strohm continued to detect high levels of sediment in water discharging from his taps and was required to continually clean and replace aerators, filters, screens, and water lines throughout his home.
A host of other consumers reported similar concerns from April 28, 2011, to Dec. 5, 2017.
During a public hearing before the Missouri Public Service Commission at the Riverside City Hall in February 2016, then-Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston took to the podium to announce she received numerous complaints about water quality from Parkville residents. She said it was difficult to gauge just how many residents were dealing with the problem, but generally, it was limited to Riss Lake, Thousand Oaks, and the National subdivisions.
“Our residents are angry about the rates and angry about the water quality,” Johnston told the commission.
A spokesperson for the water company acknowledged that some other customers were experiencing similar issues but assured those in attendance that it was their intention to rectify the problem.
And so they tried. Missouri-American Water performed technology upgrades, but some contend the problem was not effectively resolved.
At that point, attorney Dameron solicited customer feedback that revealed the problem was “persistent and ongoing.”
As a result, he filed a complaint, putting MAWC on notice that they could be held accountable for allegedly “failing to ensure that the water it provides to its Platte County customers is free from sediment and fit for ordinary purposes, including use for washing, watering lawns and in household appliances.”
Class action lawsuit
In late 2017, the court certified the lawsuit as a class-action suit and appointed attorney Scott Campbell as special master in the case.
The legal team sent the class—consisting of approximately 6,800 residents—information about the ongoing lawsuit, as well as a questionnaire.
Residents were given several weeks to respond to the legal team’s questionnaire. Affected customers that failed to respond remained in the class action suit unless they contacted the attorney and formally requested to be excluded from the class.
During an interview with The Landmark in September of 2018, attorney Dameron said he hopes the water company takes the allegations seriously.
“There is something uniformly occurring with the way the Missouri-American Water Company is treating their water. When it is sent out of that plant it has a high propensity to cause calcium scaling,” Dameron wrote in the complaint.
When asked if the water was safe to drink, Dameron said the sediment has no known effect on the safety of its consumption as drinking water.
“Based on our research, there is nothing identifying it as harmful for consumption. It is important to keep in mind that the Missouri-American Water Company submits water safety studies to the Department of National Resources for consumability on a frequent basis. There is no indication from regulators or from the firm’s independent research that this causes any sort of safety problems, but there is no question that the sediment causes property damage.”
Dameron received countless complaints from Missouri-American Water customers, many claiming they have had to replace their water heater because it is full of sediment, even if it was installed two years earlier.
“The City of Kansas City sources its water from the Missouri River just like the Missouri-American Water Company, but you don’t hear about these calcium scaling problems in the City of Kansas City. In Northland communities that are being serviced by the City of Kansas City we just don’t hear about water heaters going out in two to three years.”
The water company denies any wrongdoing alleged in the class-action lawsuit and petitioned the court to dismiss the class-action case. Based on the facts of the case, Circuit Court Judge James Van Amburg denied their petition and set a hearing to continue the litigation process. An appellate court reviewed Judge Van Amburg’s decision and upheld the trial court’s decisions.
Over a five-year period, parties to the lawsuit prepared for trial. But litigation is expensive and there are no certainties when a case is tried before a jury. Ultimately, the parties reached a settlement before the case was set to be tried before a jury.
On May 13, Judge Van Amburg approved the settlement agreement. As part of the settlement, Jason Strohm was awarded $10,000 and each participant in the class was awarded approximately $2,000 in compensation. The amount awarded varies slightly depending on how many devices class members claimed were damaged by excessive calcium scaling in the water.