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Glendale church files suit seeking damages from sewer backup that closed its preschool for days

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Glendale Presbyterian Church has filed a lawsuit against the City of Glendale and a contractor over sewage that backed up onto the sidewalk outside the church’s preschool last year.
(Tim Berger / Glendale News Press)

Parents scrambled to pick up their children at Glendale Presbyterian Church’s preschool on the morning of Jan. 23 last year after sewage backed up onto the sidewalk outside the school, leading to reportedly unsanitary conditions for the nearly 85 students attending the school, according to a lawsuit filed by the church with Los Angeles Superior Court and those who were at the scene.

A plumber called to the scene could not fix the issue. The next day, the Lighthart Corp., a contractor hired by the school, dug up the street to determine the cause, according to James Belliveau, a clerk with Glendale Presbyterian.

According to a report by Lighthart, a sewer pipe had been left uncapped during a recent landscape-improvement project undertaken by the city of Glendale, leading to a blockage caused by rocks filling the pipe.

It took nearly four days and about $28,700 to fix the problem and reopen the school, according to the lawsuit.

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Now, the church is hoping to recoup that cost — as well as about $6,700 in lost tuition — from the city of Glendale and a contractor hired by the city through the lawsuit filed last month.

This was the church’s last resort, according to Belliveau.

“This is a substantial amount of money for our church, but it’s a small amount for an insurance claim,” Belliveau said in a phone interview. “I’m surprised they won’t come to the bargaining table and get this done with.”

The Glendale city attorney’s office denied the church’s claim for damages in a letter dated June 10.

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City officials forwarded the claim to Long Beach-based Excel Paving Co., which had been hired to complete the landscaping work for the city.

Excel never responded to the claim, said Belliveau, who said he also tried to reach the company independently of the city.

With a statute of limitations fast closing in, church administrators decided to file the suit, said Rima Cameron, an attorney representing the church pro bono, in a phone interview.

“Really, it was the last option for us,” said Cameron, who attends Glendale Presbyterian.

The Glendale city attorney’s office declined to comment on the pending litigation, and Excel did not respond to a request for comment.

Roger Lighthart, chief executive of the Lighthart Corp., said Excel’s work led to the backup in a letter to Belliveau dated July 29.

“Once discovered, there is no question the problem was caused by a ‘latent defect’ in the improvements performed by the city’s contractor, Excel Paving Co.,” Lighthart wrote.

In the letter, Lighthart added that that sewer infrastructure is “always the responsibility of the property owner it is serving,” although it is in the public right-of-way.

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While Excel’s crew allegedly did not cap the pipe, it was the city’s responsibility to inspect and clear the work, Cameron said.

The city and Excel have 30 days from Dec. 19, the date the suit was served, to respond to the suit.

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