Down the drain 

WLR homeowner sues after sewage flood.

SOUR HOUSE: West LR home suffered damage following sewer flood.
  • SOUR HOUSE: West LR home suffered damage following sewer flood.

When Petey King and his family walked into their West Little Rock home after a three-day trip to visit relatives in Houston in February 2008, the first thing they noticed was the smell. Led by his nose, King followed the increasingly foul odor downstairs and found a horror show.

 “I walked through the rooms that were down there and the sewage was still coming out through the toilet and through the tub,” King said. “I was just absolutely in shock.” Sometime during the weekend, a subcontractor for Little Rock Wastewater was excavating across the street when they pierced a sewage line leading to King's home at 1 Ridgeview Court, in a gated subdivision off Cantrell Road. A cleanup expert hired by King would later estimate that between 20,000 and 30,000 gallons of raw sewage flowed into the lower level of the showplace home — featured twice in the glossy décor magazine “At Home in Arkansas” — over the next few days. “It was overflowing,” King said. “There was [feces] visibly on the floor. Anything that goes down the garbage disposal; anything that goes down the sewer was on our floor.”

In the weeks that followed, King says that Little Rock Wastewater — which, like many state and local government agencies has broad immunity from civil lawsuits — did next to nothing to help them clean up the mess, and nothing to pay for what was destroyed. Saying their home is unlivable now due to fecal bacteria in the air and crawlspace and a growing infestation of mold, King and his wife Angela Harrison have filed a lawsuit against Little Rock Wastewater and their subcontractors, seeking over a $1.7 million in damages. 

King and Harrison bought the 5,000-square-foot home in the exclusive Ridge subdivision in 2002. He said they extensively redecorated after moving in, and thought they'd live there “forever.”  After the house was flooded with sewage, an expert in hazardous spills called in by King and Harrison told them that it was unsafe to take anything from the house. He recommended that everything on the lower floors that touched sewage  — including furniture, carpet, clothing, personal items and everything in the children's play room — should be immediately bagged up and thrown away. The central heating system was flooded with sewage, and had been blowing warm, bacteria-infested air throughout the upper floors for days, so experts told them everything else in the house was contaminated and unsafe to touch as well.

For the next month and a half, King said, they were effectively homeless, staying with relatives. “We couldn't take anything out of the house. No clothing,” King said. “We lived out of the back of my car with my family… That's hard with a family. We couldn't take anything out. Nothing. We left with what was on our bodies and that was it.”  Eventually, cleanup crews with damage mitigation companies Service Master and Atoka would gut the downstairs, taking out even the floors and sheetrock walls. King said that the air in the house, the sub-floor and the soil under the house still test positive for fecal bacteria, even over a year later, and the lower floor has been invaded by mold. They have been told it's unsafe to enter the home without a respirator. Since then, King said, excavations by Little Rock Wastewater have changed the way water flows in the area, sending rainwater under the house and undermining the foundation.

While King prefers not to comment on the financial cost of the cleanup, it has been expensive. He said that Wastewater has done little to help, and has done nothing financially. “All that was done by us,” King said. “Not one time has there been anybody from Little Rock Wastewater … that has been over to the house. They tested the air, but it was [done by] the subcontractor.”  Fed up with the situation, King and Harrison hired a lawyer, and filed suit in August of last year. Though Little Rock Wastewater cited its immunity from civil liability, a judge has ruled the lawsuit can go forward. A trial has been set for January 2010.

Joe Schaffner, a spokesperson for Little Rock Wastewater, disputes King's claims that the agency did nothing to help the family clean up the mess. “From day one, me, my boss and several other Little Rock Wastewater personnel have been on the phone with the Kings,” he said. “Every time we hung up the phone, they seemed to be okay with the answers they were given and the information they provided. Then all of a sudden, we'd get a call from city hall saying we need to do something about this….  We did everything we could on our part, but it didn't flow the way it normally flows.”

Schaffner said that Wastewater usually has less than ten incidents a year in which a customer's home is damaged by water or sewage through something that is the fault of the municipality. He said that in the case of sewage spills, the normal procedure is to dispatch a crew, vacuum up all the sewage, and then spread an enzyme that kills any harmful bacteria associated with the spill.

Little Rock Wastewater is immune from civil lawsuits, Schaffner said, and once didn't have any sort of policy to financially compensate homeowners for cost incurred over spills.  “Out of public relations,” he said, Little Rock Wastewater has developed a reimbursement policy which can reimburse homeowners for up to $750 in damages. Any claims larger than that have to be approved by the Sanitary Sewer Committee, but “ nine times out of 10,” Schaffner said, claims are settled within the $750 parameter.

“The liability of claiming that we're at fault here is huge,” Schaffner said. “That's why we have tort immunity; not to take advantage of residents, but because everybody in the world would sue Little Rock Wastewater.”

Schaffner said that during talks with Little Rock Wastewater, King and Harrison were unreasonable in their demands. As an example, he cited their belief that everything that had touched sewage should be ripped up and thrown out, including items that could be sanitized like a porcelain bathtub, a toilet and ceramic tile. Still, he insists that the house is livable, and that Little Rock Wastewater was trying to work with the family to clean up the damage, until King and Harrison got their attorney involved.

“ Once lawyers are involved,” Schaffner said, “it shuts doors. Now it's in the hands of the courts. And it escalated to that point, and that happened because of the Kings.”

King calls the response from Little Rock Wastewater “disheartening.” He said that back during the summer, he and his wife came to the realization that they would never be able to go back to 1 Ridgeview Court. They have since bought a new house in West Little Rock. With the court date out on the horizon, however, what they lost is often on their minds.

“It's just the fact that they can do that to a family that really, really upsets me,” King said. “This shouldn't happen to any family… It's been horrible.”


From the ArkTimes store


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by David Koon

  • For lovers

    We put our usual cynicism and grousing on hold as we genuflect in the direction of Aphrodite, with highly questionable sex and relationship advice from our staff, much sounder advice from an honest-to-God sex therapist and entertainment editor Stephanie Smittle's survey of two of the state's finer rubber schlong and porno emporiums.
    • Feb 8, 2018
  • Desperation and doubt on display as Ark. State Medical Board considers rules to help curb over-prescription of opioids.

    At a meeting of the Arkansas State Medical Board this morning, board members heard from doctors, patients and state leaders on proposed rules changes for physicians, designed to help curb the state's opioid epidemic.
    • Feb 1, 2018
  • Rutledge: AG's office will investigate drug makers over opioid addiction in Arkansas

    Citing what she called "staggering statistics," including Arkansas's #2 ranking for overall opioid prescriptions, and top ranking in the number of teens abusing prescription painkillers, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announce today that her office will investigate the corporate manufacturers of opioid drugs, bringing on extra help from private firms, with an eye toward potential litigation or prosecutions.
    • Jan 24, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Eligible voters removed from rolls

    Arkansas Times reporters contacted election officials around the state to see how they had handled flawed felon data from the secretary of state. Responses varied dramatically.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Real Republicans don't do pre-K

    Also, drifting away from trump, Hudson's downfall at ASU and more.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Asa on pre-K

    • Aug 17, 2016

Most Shared

  • In the margins

    A rediscovered violin concerto brings an oft-forgotten composer into the limelight.
  • Donald Trump is historically unpopular — and not necessarily where you think

    My colleagues John Ray and Jesse Bacon and I estimate, in the first analysis of its kind for the 2018 election season, that the president's waning popularity isn't limited to coastal cities and states. The erosion of his electoral coalition has spread to The Natural State, extending far beyond the college towns and urban centers that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. From El Dorado to Sherwood, Fayetteville to Hot Springs, the president's approval rating is waning.
  • Arkansans join House vote to gut Americans with Disabilities Act

    Despite fierce protests from disabled people, the U.S. House voted today, mostly on party lines, to make it harder to sue businesses for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Of course Arkansas congressmen were on the wrong side.

Latest in Arkansas Reporter

  • Historian out

    Another DAH defection.
    • Feb 15, 2018
  • DYS to keep youth lockups

    Will do further study before seeking private provider.
    • Feb 8, 2018
  • ADC can't retain guards

    More than a third of new hires in 2017 left before the year was up. The culture is the problem, former guards say.
    • Feb 1, 2018
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28  

Most Viewed

  • Locked away and forgotten

    In 2017, teenagers committed to rehabilitative treatment at two South Arkansas juvenile lockups did not receive basic hygiene and clothing supplies and lived in wretched conditions.

Most Recent Comments


© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation