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Are municipalities liable when sewers can’t cope with big storms?

Flooded basement

The Quebec Court of Appeal has dismissed a class action by owners of 1,723 homes that flooded in 1997, when sewers backed up in heavy rains. In Dicaire v. Chambly, many of the homes had flooded three times in 18 months. However, the court ruled that the sewers were designed, as provincial guidelines required, to cope with a “5 year storm”. They agreed with the trial judge: the Town wasn’t obliged to do more, and build for a 25, 50 or 100 year storm. At least not in this case.

But what about future cases? The Court went out of its way to note that current design standards may not protect municipalities in future lawsuits, in light of “recent climate phenomena” and other scientific advances. But since the plaintiffs had offered no evidence on the point during the trial, the Court of Appeal left the question open for another day.

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