Lawsuit alleges West Van to blame for flooding damage to commercial property

A group of commercial property owners are suing the District of West Vancouver, blaming the municipality for flood damage to their Ambleside building.

Gisela Waibel, Joachim Waibel and Andreas Waibel have filed a civil claim in B.C. Supreme Court arguing floods of their property at 1544 Marine Dr. were caused by the district’s negligence.

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In the suit, the Waibels argue the district was responsible for inspection, maintenance and operation of the stormwater system, including infrastructure near the property. From at least 1998 onwards, the district was aware the building’s underground was particularly vulnerable to flooding when the stormwater system was unable to cope with increased flows, the lawsuit claims.

In 2004, West Van prepared an integrated stormwater management plan for Lawson Creek, which runs within 650 metres of the Marine Drive property. But that stormwater management plan was never updated at least once in 12 years, as provincial regulations require, they argue, and it was not adequately implemented, they allege.

The plaintiffs first raised the flooding concern with district staff in 2007, the claim states, when they noticed manholes overflowing with water during high rainfall events.

In November 2014, the stormwater system near the property overflowed, when Lawson Creek jumped its banks and ran down the alley abutting the property. Two more floods followed in January and November of 2018. Those floods destroyed the electrical and mechanical installations in the underground, and did extensive damage to the floor, wall and ceiling of the underground, the claim states.

Both floods were caused by “the district’s otherwise lack of maintenance of the stormwater system near the property, which had reduced its capacity to carry stormwater,” and “new land developments at higher elevation … in circumstances where there had been a lack of suitable and corresponding development of the stormwater infrastructure to mitigate the impact on Lawson Creek and the stormwater system near the property,” the plaintiffs state. (The November 2018 flood is also blamed on a blocked culvert, which the district failed to keep clear, the suit alleges).

The floods have made the building uninsurable and harmed the owners’ relationship with their tenants, the civil claim asserts, and the market value of property has been diminished while the Waibels have been responsible for inspection, engineering and repair costs.

In their suit, the Waibels are asking the court to award unspecified damages, plus interest.

The District of West Vancouver, however, has filed a response denying responsibility.

“At all material times, the district fully and properly discharged its duties as a local government in a reasonable and prudent manner, with all due care, skill and diligence on the part of its agents, servants and employees, and the district is not responsible for any loss, damage or expense suffered by the plaintiffs, either as alleged or at all,” the official response stated.

The Local Government Act also bars plaintiffs from suing municipalities because of failures of a sewer, water or drainage facility, the response notes.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

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