A water service disruption throughout New Jersey’s most densely populated area will soon be spilling into the courtroom, as legal action has been taken against a contractor and a utility company for leaving locals without water amid COVID-19 concerns.
On May 4, four Jersey City residents filed a civil lawsuit in Hudson county court over a major water main break that occurred last Tuesday. Named as defendants in the filing are Suez North America, who operate water systems in Jersey City and Hoboken, and Howell Township-based George Harms Construction.
The complaint stems from a series of events that started on April 28, when a 36-inch water main feeding water to Jersey City ruptured and disrupted service for thousands of customers. The lawsuit says that Suez reported on Twitter that a “contractor” doing road work on Route 7 between Jersey City and Kearny was responsible for the damage.
According to the lawsuit, George Harms Construction was to blame for the break that caused most of Jersey City to report water outages later in the day. The case says that due to the disruption in service, both Jersey City and Hoboken water customers were literally left high and dry.
Residents of both cities were “without water to wash hands during the COVID-19 pandemic, unable to flush their toilets, unable to take showers, and unable to drink tap water,” the case says. The plaintiffs say they “were forced to buy and use bottled water” to perform those tasks.
The lawsuit says that Suez customers suffered monetary damages “in having to run water for extended periods of time to clear the pipes and hot water heaters of contaminants causing the water to have a brown color.”
The complaint argues that but for George Harms Construction’s negligent conduct, “the water main breach and loss of water service would not have occurred.” Suez fully restored service to both cities on April 30, but a boil water advisory remained in effect for some time.
The suit estimates that the class includes “thousands” of members; it is defined as all Suez customers who resided in Jersey City and Hoboken between April 28 and April 30. Jersey City’s estimated population is around 264,000 and adding Hoboken’s 54,000-plus residents potentially creates a class of over 318,000 people.
Neither George Harms Construction nor Suez Water have responded to inquiries we placed regarding the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of the class by Roseland-based Snyder, Sarno, D’Aniello, Maceri & da Costa LLC.
Suez had notable litigation with the City of Hoboken back in September 2018 following a string of 18 water main breaks that occurred within a month. The result of that action was a new agreement that will see Suez invest $33 million into the city’s antiquated water system over the next 15 years.