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County not liable for erosion, property collapse

By: Heath Hamacher//May 17, 2022

County not liable for erosion, property collapse

By: Heath Hamacher//May 17, 2022

After a two-and-a-half-day trial, an Orangeburg County jury has found the county not liable for damage done to a man’s waterfront property by an alleged faulty drainage system.

Mike Montgomery of Montgomery Willard in Columbia represented Orangeburg County and said that the matter has to do with a Eutawville home that sits on the shores of Lake Marion and the drainage system that empties surface water from the road into the lake.

Like many of his neighbors, plaintiff Ray Ardis protected his property — which features a steep slope near the water — from lake water with a seawall and retaining wall. The seawall began to fail in 2016 during Hurricane Andrew, Montgomery said, causing soil from Ardis’ yard to wash into the lake.

According to Ardis complaint, the county allowed the drainage system to fall into disrepair despite numerous notices and complaints.

“He alleged that the drainage pipe was damaged and defective, and that the County had failed to maintain the pipe properly,” Montgomery said. “He further alleged that the faulty pipe was the cause of his loss.”

Ardis sued the county in 2018. At trial, he testified that it would cost more than $300,000 to repair his property and that he had suffered a diminution in the value of his home to the tune of approximately $600,000.

Montgomery said that pipe was not defective, but that a storm had caused a section in the lake to become disconnected from the pipe.

“Defense experts testified that the broken section was not the cause of Mr. Ardis’ loss, but instead, his loss resulted from storms and water acting on a worn-out retaining wall,” Montgomery said.

Evidence was introduced that there were similar problems on the property before a repair of the wall in 1998.  However, Mr. Ardis attributed those to street runoff before the road was paved and the storm drainage system was constructed.

The jury returned its verdict for the defense after deliberating less than 30 minutes, Montgomery said.

The plaintiff was represented by Skyler Hutto and Virginia Williams of Williams & Williams in Orangeburg. Neither attorney responded to a request for comment.

Amount: $0 (Defense verdict)
Injuries alleged: Damage to seawall, bulkhead, massive erosion, collapse of property
Case name: Ray Ardis v. Orangeburg County
Court: Orangeburg County Circuit Court
Case No.: 2018-CP-38-00633
Judge: Edgar Dickson
Date of verdict: March 27
Demand: $300,000
Highest offer: $30,000
Most helpful experts: Glenn Stewart (engineering design and testing) and Michael Murray (American Dock & Marine Construction)
Insurance carrier: South Carolina Insurance Reserve Fund
Attorneys for plaintiff: Skyler Hutto and Virginia Williams of Williams & Williams in Orangeburg
Attorney for defendant: Mike Montgomery of Montgomery Willard in Columbia

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