Alan Cameron | Senior Associate

That sinking feeling…

Scottish Water has been ordered to pay Glasgow homeowners £220,000 after their home had to be demolished when a water main burst in their garden and caused a sinkhole to appear.

The couple argued that Scottish Water did not do enough to prevent the void from opening at their property back in December 2013 and that more should have been done to ensure the structural integrity of a manhole close to their home. It was argued that after water mains near to their home burst in December 2008, the liquid that escaped damaged the structural support for a nearby sewer and manhole. This then cased the sinkhole to appear five years later. The couple were forced to move after the presence of the sinkhole made their property uninhabitable. Scottish Water argued that the water main leak did not cause the appearance of the sinkhole and insisted that they had done everything in their power. They blamed the appearance of the sinkhole on poor land quality and heavy rain.

The couple sought compensation from Scottish Water, who were responsible for the manhole and the sewer to which it was connected, and relied upon s. 10 of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 which states that a local authority or Scottish Water shall make ‘full compensation’ to any person who has sustained damage by reason of the exercise by them of their powers in relation to a matter as to which he has not himself been in default.

Having heard evidence from the parties’ expert witnesses, Lady Wolffe, sitting at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, found in favour of the couple. In the judgement, published on Friday, Lady Wolffe wrote: “the two incidents occurred in very close proximity to each other. The 2008 water main burst caused settlement in precisely the same location that the initial settlement in November 2013 occurred…The obvious explanation for this is that the two incidents were related.”

Lady Wolffe also suggested that it would have been a ‘remarkable coincidence’ for the sinkhole in 2013 to have appeared in exactly the same location as the incident in 2008.

Whilst s.10 of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 provides a remedy to anyone who has suffered property damage at the hands of Scottish Water, it is important to note that unless your claim for compensation is made within 24 months from the date of the alleged damage then it will be time-barred. This two year period is significantly shorter than the usual 5 year prescriptive period for compensation claims. The other thing to bear in mind, and as this case highlights, is that independent expert evidence is likely to be required in order to prove liability on Scottish Water’s (or a local authority’s) behalf.

A full copy of the opinion can be found here.

Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron

Dispute Resolution Team

“My motto is: ‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.’”

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