Plaintiffs seek $1 million in Turlock Irrigation District injury, property damage lawsuits

gstapley@modbee.comDecember 3, 2013 

— A serious injury and property damage related to pipe and canal problems led to three ongoing lawsuits against the Turlock Irrigation District, and plaintiffs are seeking more than $1 million combined.

Billy Rinehart, 58, of Delhi suffered “grievous injury” when his 2002 Dodge pickup plunged 10 feet in predawn darkness in January 2012 because an eroded TID canal had washed out part of Williams Avenue in Hilmar, says a lawsuit filed by Rinehart and his wife, Janice. The hole “constituted a latent hazard amounting to a hidden trap” for unsuspecting drivers, the document says.

Rinehart, who was on his way to work, suffered an unspecified permanent disability, the document says. A pre-lawsuit claim against Merced County and TID said his medical bills totaled more than $500,000 and that he would miss out on more than $500,000 in lost wages.

The county and district “had constructive notice” of the canal washout but “failed to correct and/or warn” drivers, and “cannot escape responsibility by delegating work to an independent contractor,” the lawsuit says. A pretrial proceeding is scheduled for Jan. 6 in Stanislaus Superior Court.

In a second incident, a home in a rural area west of Ceres was flooded when an underground TID pipe burst in April 2012, court documents say.

Unidentified TID officials “breached their respective duties by negligently and carelessly misrepresenting known deficiencies with the irrigation pipe,” says a lawsuit filed in late September. It claims that TID had not obtained an easement for the line on Poland Drive, and a home owned by Brad and Megan Reisz “was rendered unusable for any use.”

They apparently received an insurance payout and Safeco Insurance Co. is suing the TID for $206,474 in damages, plus attorney fees. The next court date is set for Jan. 27.

A third lawsuit was filed by Robert, Lucille and Jacob Harkrader, whose Turlock property on East Monte Vista Avenue near Olive Avenue was damaged when a TID pipe broke in 76 places on March 11, the document says.

The line apparently was clogged with sand and manure that had drained from a dairy, the lawsuit says, and cost $17,523 to fix. The family is seeking that amount plus 10percent annual interest and attorney fees, the lawsuit says. Attorneys are scheduled to confer with a judge Jan. 6.

The TID’s sister district on the Tuolumne River, the Modesto Irrigation District, faces a lawsuit linked to a Dec. 20 vehicle accident at Modesto’s Sisk Road and Plaza Parkway.

A complaint with few details indicates that Fausta and Jose Manuel Garcia incurred hospital bills and lost wages. The Bee was unable to reach their Modesto attorney, Mark Nelson.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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