A three judge panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the city's water did not cause “pinhole” pipe leaks that appeared in a handful of Northwest D.C. apartment buildings.
David Cormier, owner of eight District apartment buildings, sued the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority in 2003, arguing that “excessively corrosive water” caused the tiny leaks to develop in five of his buildings’ aging copper pipes.
Cormier and his expert witness claimed that elevated aluminum and pH levels, in combination with high levels of chlorine, created the leaks, which have continued to develop.
That witness, after studying samples pulled from Cormier’s buildings, “concluded that the buildings’ copper plumbing had been irreversibly compromised and needed to be replaced in the near future.”
D.C. Water disputed Cormier’s every allegation, ultimately winning in a nonjury trial. The court found that Cormier failed to prove that the authority caused the pinhole leaks or had caused the water to be excessively corrosive.
Water is, by its very nature, a corrosive substance, the experts testifying at the original trial agreed, but D.C. Water’s product is also safe to drink.
“Plaintiffs' contention that a product that is so corrosive to copper pipes that it is unreasonably dangerous is belied by the fact that it is safe for its intended, ordinary purpose,” the lower court ruled, referencing what most people use water for: drinking. “The Court concludes that the water sold be (sic) Defendant is not unreasonably dangerous and that Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden on the issue of strict liability.”
The appeals court upheld the lower court in almost every instance, though it did reduce the amount Cormier will have to pay D.C. Water for litigation costs from $76,434.40 to $74,575.34.
"We agree with the court's ruling," said John Lisle, D.C. Water spokesman. "We see it as a victory and fair ruling for both DC Water and most importantly our customers."
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