McNicholas & McNicholas LLP Files Class Action Lawsuit Against CA Department of Water Resources For Oroville Dam Disaster
– DWR knew of design and construction defects and made inadequate repairs –
BUTTE COUNTY, CA – Los Angeles-based trial law firm McNicholas & McNicholas LLP and Frantz Law Group, APLC announced the filing of a class action lawsuit against the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) on behalf of Francis Bechtel, Jacob Klein and Mary Watson, and the proposed class of 188,000 residents who were ordered to evacuate their homes on February 12, 2017 in response to the failing emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam.
According to Patrick McNicholas, Partner at McNicholas & McNicholas LLP, this event was the result of DWR’s negligence and inadequate maintenance of the dam over several years. “The design, construction defects and flaws have been propagated by DWR during maintenance of the spillway. State officials didn’t even enter the spillway channel during the last two inspections,” said McNicholas. “DWR’s conduct in the operation of the Oroville Dam was a substantial factor in causing harm to the Plaintiffs who, in addition to having been unable to use and enjoy their property during the evacuation, continue to be concerned about the stigma associated with the dam failure, the potential for future failures and the implications on property values.”
The Oroville Dam, built and maintained by the California Department of Water Resources, impounds Lake Oroville, the second largest man-made lake in the state of California. Since its completion in 1968, Oroville Dam has allocated the flow of the Feather River from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta into the California Aqueduct, which provides a major supply of water irrigation in the San Joaquin valley as well as to municipal and industrial water supplies for coastal Southern California.
In early February, 2017, dam operators began using the concrete “main spillway” to control the lake level, and a crater developed about halfway down the main spillway, allowing water to escape the channel and erode the earth beneath. This crater developed as a result of weakness in the aged concrete, inadequate repairs of cracks to the concrete, and instability in the ground under the spillway. State engineers conduced two test flows on February 8 and February 9. However, as the lake level rose, water began pouring over the top of the emergency spillway.
On Sunday, February 12, 2017, erosion at the emergency spillway became so severe that officials from the DWR ordered evacuation for fear that the erosion would undercut the 1,730 foot long concrete weir along the top of the emergency spillway, allowing billions of gallons of water to pour into the hillside toward Oroville and other towns downstream and creating one of the worst dam disasters in United States history.
The design and construction defects and flaws propagated by DWR during maintenance of the spillway included repeated ineffective repairs made to cracks and joint displacements to prevent water stagnation and cavitation pressure intrusion under the base slabs with subsequent erosion of the spillway subgrade. Additionally, large trees were allowed to grow adjacent to the spillway walls, where their roots could intrude below the base slabs and into the subgrade drainage pipes. This caused reduced flow and plugging of the drainage pipes.
The cracks in the cement across the main spillway have been evident since 2010, or earlier. According to records, state officials did not enter the spillway channel during the last two inspections in 2015 and 2016, raising concerns to the adequacy of these inspections.
It is alleged that in the event of a collapse of the entire Oroville Dam, local emergency officials would not have enough time to perform evacuations in the communities downstream, and that emergency responders would likely need to withdraw to safer ground and prepare for victims.
McNicholas & McNicholas, a Los Angeles-based plaintiff’s trial law firm, represents clients in the areas of catastrophic personal injury, employment law, class actions, sexual abuse and other consumer-oriented matters such as civil rights, aviation disasters and product liability. Founded by a family of attorneys spanning three generations, McNicholas & McNicholas has been trying cases to jury verdict on behalf of their clients for more than five decades.
McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP
10866 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Frantz Law Group, a California-based law firm with offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Riverside, represents plaintiffs in personal injury litigation cases throughout California and nationwide.
Frantz Law Group
402 West Broadway, Suite 860
San Diego, CA 92101