Former owner of condemned Broadway building suing city

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The holding company that formerly owned a condemned building on E. Broadway Street is suing the city of Winchester and other municipal entities, alleging negligence on the city’s part created conditions that caused part of the building to collapse after last October’s flash flood event.

In a suit filed Monday, Aug. 15th, in Clark County Circuit Court, Cartwright Rentals and Cartwright Designs are suing the city, Winchester Municipal Utilities (WMU), the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) Insurance Agency, and KLC Insurance Services for a monetary award for all damages allegedly caused by the city, legal expenses from all parties named in the suit and punitive damages from the KLC.

According to court documents, the Cartwright companies allege that negligence by the city and WMU to properly maintain a culvert – not excessive rainfall – led to the partial collapse on Oct 7th. of the building located at 14 E. Broadway St.

Email newsletter signup

The Cartwright companies allege, according to court documents, that “the amount of rain that fell in Winchester” last fall “was neither extraordinary nor unprecedented.”

According to court documents, the companies state that data from Kentucky Mesonet – the state’s official weather source – show that 2.78 inches of rain fell on Oct. 7th.

The Cartwright companies point out that Winchester received 5.09 inches of rain on July 21st, 2021, and seven rainfall events before that exceeded the total from Oct. 7th, according to court documents. At no point during that time did the building collapse.

Instead, the companies allege in court documents that the preexisting poor conditions of the culvert and Town Branch system are to blame.

Four days after the collapse, on Oct. 11th, Palmer Engineering inspected the culvert and its wall on the city’s behalf and found “obvious structural failures” and that the “washout areas have undermined some of the building’s ground floor slab,” according to court documents.

At the time of the collapse, according to court documents, the east side of the culvert wall shifted to the west by six feet, and the western wall was leaning towards the culvert. The garage slab’s only support was several “deteriorated wooden beams.”

In court documents, the Cartwright companies also allege that the culvert walls were “insufficient to any stress” and that the city failed to keep the drains unclogged, allowing water to collect on the surface and enter the building.

The city and WMU “have known for decades that the culvert has been in great need of repair and in need of substantial repairs to prevent its ultimate catastrophic failure and collapse,” the Cartwright companies allege in court documents.

To support its claim, the companies point to several statements in court documents made by city officials during the Oct. 20th and Nov. 3rd, 2021 Winchester Board of Commissioners meetings.

“Town Branch has been a difficult situation for a great many years. 80, 90, 100 years ago, when the town was building out and developing, it was a common thing to build a storm sewer or a culvert, enclose it where the natural flow was and then build a building on top of it. Over time you just have to expect at some point that things are going to go bad,” said Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner last October, as quoted in court documents.

Winchester City Manager Mike Flynn remarked last November, “we know we’ve got several failures from the October 7 flood event,” as quoted in court documents.

During the November meeting, representatives from Palmer Engineering repeatedly said that the culvert had failed and that a blockage needed to be removed to fix it properly, according to court documents.

Due to the building’s condemnation, the rental company lost $3,700 a month in income, and the design company ceased to operate as a business, according to court documents.

The damage to the building rendered it “unusable,” and it had to be sold to the city and is slated to be demolished, according to court documents.

The city presented an insurance claim to its carrier – the KLC insurance entities – on behalf of Cartwright Rental Properties related to the losses sustained last October.

On May 16th, KLC Insurance Services and KLC Agency issued a denial of coverage that stated there was no liability on the city’s part for damage to the building, according to court documents. The denial letter said that “the flooding on your property was due to a lack of capacity within the system to handle such a significant rainfall storm.”

The companies allege in court documents that the KLC failed to investigate Cartwright’s claim correctly since it made no mention of the failed culvert, and that due to its “wrongful actions” and “outrageous conduct,” caused the rental company to suffer damages.

Lexington attorney Elliot Miller represents the companies in the case and said that due to Kentucky law, an exact monetary figure was not named in the suit but that he hopes to recoup several years of lost income for his client.

City of Winchester officials declined to comment for this story because it is pending litigation.