Des Moines County files lawsuit vs. contractors over snow-melt system
The Des Moines County Board of Supervisors alleges that two Fort Madison companies are required to pay damages for the failure of a system installed in 2014.
Management hired Abolt Inc. and Great River Plumbing, both located in Fort Madison, set out to install a system in April 2014 that would melt the snow off the courthouse steps, but the system has stopped working since then.
“Due to the hidden nature of the snowmelt system pipes, plaintiff could not discover the defendants’ negligence until December 16, 2018,” said the petition filed last December by then First Assistant Des Moines County Attorney Todd Chelf.
The county has made two major claims: that the companies provided a guarantee, express or implied, and that the companies were negligent. Meanwhile, in response to the petition, Abolt and Great River Plumbing said that what happened to the shire steps was “an act of God.”
Abolt is represented in the lawsuit by Davenport attorney Patrick Woodward. Great River plumbing, which is no longer operating but has not filed a dissolution with the Secretary of State, is represented by Burlington attorney Brent Ruther.
Abolt, who had hired the county to install the system, outsourced the work to Great River Plumbing, with the plan for the companies to design and install the system, although Ruther said his client was not involved in the design.
But what happened from it is disputed between the three parties.
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Chelf said the system had problems from the start, leading to concerns about its quality and effectiveness. In turn, the province was given a five-year warranty on parts and labor. However, Woodward said the warranty was provided for work on the concrete, not the entire system.
By the summer of 2018, Chelf said the province should use the guarantee for concrete defects on the step. Abolt removed part of the stairs to get started, with Woodward saying the repairs were minor.
“Great River Plumbing affirmatively states that it knew through observation that Abolt employees were working on the concrete outside the courthouse,” said Ruther.
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In December 2018, Chelf said the county was starting to have problems, starting with a noise coming from the pipes on December 11. Chelf alleges the county contacted Great River Plumbing, who told the county on Dec. 14 to open the system’s isolation valve. which had previously been closed.
Ruther said his client had not been in contact with the county until then, and he agreed with what Great River Plumbing said.
On December 16, the county resident, not mentioned in the petition, complained about water on the floor. The only office on the lower floor of the courthouse that is not directly part of the county is Juvenile Court Services.
“The plaintiff has been unable to use the system since December 16, 2018,” Chelf said in his initial filing.
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Ruther denied the claim due to “lack of information”.
Woodward and Ruther set out five similar defenses against the claim.
“Should this defendant have made a mistake … then that mistake should be compared to that of the plaintiff and / or other parties,” both lawyers said in their respective motions.
The attorneys referred to Iowa Code 688, which requires judges to consider how the parties to the case default in comparison to one another.
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In the event that the plaintiff bears some fault, the amount of the damage suffered by the plaintiff should be reduced in accordance with the amount of the debt that the plaintiff bears.
In criminal cases, the jury is not allowed to know what penalties a suspect would face if convicted. In a civil case, however, it is the jury that decides what a suspect should pay.
In this case, the jury is told to determine the foul of each side.
The county did not specify what damage it is seeking, and in his motion, Ruther said that based on what was included in the filing document, Great River Plumbing denies that any damage occurred.
“The prosecution’s petition gives no indication of the damage suffered,” said Ruther.
Both lawyers also said the county has not limited the potential damage that could have occurred.
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The nuts and bolts of the suit
Another argument of the men is that the lawsuit was not filed within the statute of limitations.
Under Iowa Code 614, unwritten contracts have a five-year statute of limitations and written contracts have a ten-year statute of limitations, although the law does provide for some exemptions.
Ruther said the case is still in its infancy.
“We haven’t even discovered yet,” Ruther told The Hawk Eye on Wednesday.
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It is expected that during the investigation process it will become clear what damage the province is likely to pursue. He said these types of requests for all damages are not unheard of and are common in personal injury cases.
This month, a discovery order was introduced by Judge Mark Kruse. Meanwhile, a pilot planning conference is scheduled for June 15.
The lawsuit initially fell under the domain of Chelf, who has since left the office. Des Moines County Attorney Lisa Schaefer then filed an appearance in the case. According to court records, the newest attorney in Schaefer’s office, Travis Henlkelvig, has also been added as attorney in the case.
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While the case was filed in Des Moines County, it has moved to Louisa County.
Jurors are not allowed to participate in the case. In the event that the county is the defendant, it is assumed that residents of the county do have a share in the case and as a result the case must be moved.
For a case to be moved, the accused in the case must file his response to the original petition in another province. Woodward filed Abolt’s response in Des Moines County and was therefore charged $ 40 to have it moved to Louisa County, where Ruther had filed the charges.