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Couple sues Newport Beach after same water main breaks twice, destroys family’s home both times

Amy and Marshall Senk sit on sandbags lining the curb around their newly rebuilt home Friday, May 17.
Amy and Marshall Senk sit on sandbags lining the curb around their newly rebuilt home Friday. They’re suing Newport Beach, accusing it of negligence after two separate water main breaks flooded their house.
(Eric Licas)
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The trial dates for two related lawsuits filed against the city of Newport Beach accusing it of negligence in the maintenance of a water main that burst and flooded a local home twice has been set for this fall, according to attorney Jesse Creed.

Amy and Marshall Senk have owned their home on Evening Canyon Road in Corona del Mar since 2002 and, after remodeling it, began living there in August 2006.

In October 2020, a water main owned and operated by the city failed and burst, which led to “catastrophic” flooding of the property with 500,000 gallons of water, according to a complaint filed in Orange County Superior Court in April 2023 by the Senks’ attorneys from Panish|Shea|Ravipudi LLP. The damage left in the wake of the failure made the house uninhabitable.

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Because the damage made it necessary to demolish and rebuild their home, the Senks lived in temporary quarters for the two years the work was underway. They were preparing to move back into their home in November 2022 when the same water main broke and flooded the home a second time.

Construction on the second rebuild was completed earlier this year, but the Senks are fearful of returning because the house remains subject to the same risks, according to Creed.

Amy and Marshall Senk stand outside of their newly rebuilt home Friday.
Amy and Marshall Senk stand outside of their newly rebuilt home Friday, May 17. They’re suing Newport Beach, accusing it of negligence after two water main breaks flooded the house.
(Eric Licas)

“Imagine if the water main breaks again and floods. If you’re on the stairs and you’re rushing down, there’s a health and safety risk. If you had people over, if their kids were there or if they invited friends and family over and a flood were to happen, there’s a health and safety risk,” Creed said.

The complaint contends the city knew of the risks and dangers but failed to take any corrective action that would keep a water main break from happening again, forcing the Senks to have to vacate their home twice. Attorneys are seeking general and special damages, including the repair and replacement of their home; relocation costs and expenses; emotional damages; increased operating expenses; development, engineering, architectural and litigation costs.

The Senks are also asking for injunctive relief for the abatement of continuing trespass and nuisance, attorneys’ fees, experts’ fees, prejudgment interest and any other relief deemed appropriate by the court.

Flooding is pictured from the stairs of the Senks' home.
Flooding is pictured from the stairs of the Senks’ home after a city water main broke in November 2022. It was the second time the same main broke, “catastrophically” flooding their home.
(Courtesy of Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP)

The same law firm also filed a suit on behalf of the Senks in December 2022, also for inverse condemnation, in which they are also seeking all general and special damages relating to the repair and replacement of their home. Both suits are expected to go to trial in October.

In a letter submitted to the City Council on Jan. 12, the Senks said they felt the city had “abandoned” them as they requested the city help pay for relocation costs. Insurers paid for them to live elsewhere during the reconstruction for about a year, but that year ran out and the family’s been paying out of pocket to live in temporary housing ever since.

“The home recently received a certificate of occupancy allowing us to move back in. But as of this date, the city has done absolutely nothing to prevent the water main from breaking again,” the Senks wrote. “While we understand the city has plans at different phases to make public improvements, the improvements have not been complete nor do we believe the city has even started making those improvements.”

City Atty. Aaron Harp declined to comment on specifics of the active litigation but pointed to a new amendment to an engineering consultation contract first approved in 2022 that addresses Evening Canyon Road specifically.

The amendment, approved May 14 during the Newport Beach City Council’s regular meeting, requests Stantec Consulting Services, Inc. for additional professional engineering and construction services to modify the storm drain design and extend the water main on Evening Canyon Road and Shorecliff Road.

The driveway of the Senks' home was flooded after a water main owned by the city broke.
The driveway of the Senks’ home was flooded after a water main owned by the city broke. The breaks happened in 2020 and 2022.
(Courtesy of Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP)

Two construction contracts, with T.E. Roberts and All American Asphalt, were approved in October 2023 and January 2024 respectively.

In a report prepared for the City Council, city staff said recent water main breaks in the area necessitate the additional work on Evening Canyon Road. Senk said the family requested the city aid in paying for that relocation until that work has been completed.

Harp confirmed that the city entered a settlement with State Farm for $2.3 million, which he said was to cover insurer payments for the water loss at the Senks’ property in 2020.

Creed said he felt the payment to State Farm was a sign of the city “abandoning” the Senks, saying the city prioritized a corporation over its residents.

“Our lives have been devastated twice by the city of Newport — first in 2020 and again in 2022. This isn’t a natural disaster. This is a city-made disaster that has not only interrupted our lives, but stolen time and experiences from our family that we will never be able to get back or replicate,” the Senks said in a statement to the Daily Pilot on May 15. “We haven’t been home, together as a family, since 2020. We’ve had to do things like call our son to tell him not to come home for Christmas.

“Our daughter, who is graduating from college this year, has never been able to go ‘home’ her entire college career.”

Amy and Marshall Senk stand outside of their newly rebuilt home Friday, May 17.
Amy and Marshall Senk stand outside of their newly rebuilt home Friday, May 17. Construction was completed in January, but the family hasn’t moved back in for fear of more flooding.
(Eric Licas)
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