(5/17) New Year’s Day 2003 was no
holiday for the Patrick family of Thurmont.
Around 6 p.m. Robert Patrick’s young
daughter came up out of the basement saying
she had heard a noise and was afraid. Robert
went downstairs and found water frothing up
from the toilet, flooding the basement. He
placed a towel and a big rock on the toilet in
an attempt to keep the lid down and sewage in.
When the sewage continued to spill out, he
called the town emergency number.
This is part of the testimony Robert gave
in court on May 9 as a four-year-old case
finally came to trial. The Patricks and eight
other Thurmont families are suing the town for
$9 million problems related to sewage back-ups
in their houses in 2003.
The town’s response
Gary Dingle, Thurmont water and sewer
department head, showed up to assess the
problem in response to the call. Dingle
informed the Patricks that a pump at the
sewage treatment plant had failed, causing
sewage to back up and flood their home, but
assured them it was a freak accident and would
not happen again.
Rachel Patrick, Robert’s wife, said that in
spite of Dingle’s assurances she did not feel
her home was safe to live in and, “Never
really stopped cleaning.”
On the morning of May 16, the Patrick
family experienced the nightmare again. Rachel
knew what to do from experience and jumped
into action calling the town emergency number.
After several hours the sewage stopped
pouring into the Patricks’ home and the
cleanup began. The fire department pumped out
the sewage and a professional cleaning service
cleaned up the basement. According to Robert
and Rachel Patrick, the second time around the
flooding had been more severe and the family
ended up loosing personal belongings, such as
family pictures. The town had also attempted
to prevent further flooding in the homes by
pumping out the manholes in front of the
homes. The Patrick’s claimed that this caused
a lot of noise and disruption.
Robert went on to say that after the second
flooding, they handed in receipts to the town
and were told that they would be reimbursed
for the expenses incurred due to the flood.
Although the town did give them a check for
$2,000, the Patricks claim they were never
fully reimbursed. Insurance companies did
reimburse the Patricks nearly $72,000, but
after the Patrick’s house flooded for the
third time on June 2, 2003 and they had yet to
receive their full reimbursement from the
town, the Patricks decided to take the town to
Filing the lawsuit
On May 16, 2003 other neighbors on their
street experienced flooding as well and
decided to join the lawsuit against the town.
On June 24, 2004, the case was filed.
According to court documents, Wayne and Tina
Brown, Ron and Kathy Bishop, Harold and Paula
Furr, John and Kim Lavigne, Marida and Paula
Matweecha, Robert and Rachel Patrick, Robert
and Deborah Massett, Andrew and Beth Linker
and Randy and Holly Valentine filed suit as
plaintiffs against Thurmont Town, Thurmont
Board of Commissioners, and Thurmont Town et
al for $9 million. Each party is suing for
$500,000 to $600,000, except for the Patrick’s
suit for $800,000.
The jury trial began on May 7, 2007 nearly
three years later. The plaintiffs allege the
techniques used to maintain the sewer system
at the time of the incidents were not
up-to-date and the town did not fix the
problem as they said they would after the
first incident. Several of the plaintiffs
claimed they cannot sell their home because
the flooding has depreciated the value of
their affected homes making them virtually
The town’s defense
According to Thurmont Mayor Martin Burns at
the time of the incidents the sewer system was
state of the art and since the May 16 incident
the town has spent $1.6 million on sewer
repairs and $700,000 on inflow and
“Once we realized that this may not be a
single occurrence, we took action to fix it,”
Burns said. “We’ve done everything prudently
possible to mitigate it.”
Also, the town is currently trying to get a
$4 million grant to fix other sewers in town,
As for the allegation that the damaged
homes have depreciated in value due to the
flooding, several of the homeowners have
refinanced their homes, some several times,
but did not disclose the damage to the
lenders, yet they received a maximum value for
their homes. “How can you claim a loss of
value when you’ve refinanced to the maximum
value of the house?” Burns asked.
Burns also contends the town only pumped
water out of the manholes because they wanted
to prevent the homes from flooding again.
Also, since the May 16 incident four years
ago no other homes have experienced flooding
except for a June 3 incident in which Robert
Patrick’s basement flooded due to a contractor
error, Burns said.
The two parties have debated as to what
could have caused the sewer to backup in the
first place. According to Dingle and Burns,
heavy rain fell the day before and the day of
the May 16 incident.
“We had 5.2 inches of rain within a 24 hour
period before the 16th of May,” Burns said.
“The creek next to the town office was nearly
The amount of rain that fell could have
lead to the sewer becoming flooded Burns and
“We haven’t determined any specific reason
except there was too much water coming in,”
However, several of the plaintiffs
testified the rain was not heavier than normal
on May 15 or May 16. According to
weather.maryland.com several inches of rain
had fallen on the Fredrick area by 8 a.m. May
As of May 11 the plaintiffs had rested
their case and the defense was to begin trying
their case May 14. Also, the Linkers case was
dismissed because they did not disclose it in
A decision is expected by May 18.
How events have progressed
- January 1, 2003 - Around 6 p.m. the Patricks
discover sewage in their basement.
- May 16, 2003 - Around 7 a.m. or so the
plaintiffs discover sewage in their basements.
- June 3, 2003 - The Patricks basement floods a
- June 24, 2004 - The suit is filed.
- Fall 2004 – A detailed inspection of town
sewer system reveals problems.
- July 27, 2005 - Consent agreement between
Thurmont and Maryland Department of the
- March 2006 - $1.6 million sewer repair project
- May 7, 2007 - The jury trial starts.
- May 11, 2007 - The plaintiffs rest their case.
- May 14, 2007 - The defense begins their case.