A man whose home has been frequently flooded by discharge from sewers won a landmark Court of Appeal test case yesterday that could cost water companies billions.
Three judges in London ruled that Peter Marcic, 62, of Stanmore, near Harrow, was entitled to damages against Thames Water Utilities. Mr Marcic's home has been regularly and seriously affected by flooding and back-flow of foul water from Thames's sewer system since June 1992.
The Master of the Rolls, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, sitting with Lord Justice Aldous and Lord Justice Ward, ruled that Thames was liable for the nuisance caused by the flooding. Lord Phillips said: "Thames have failed to demonstrate that it was not reasonably practicable for them to prevent the nuisance."
Mr Marcic's appeal followed a High Court ruling last year in which Judge Richard Havery QC dismissed his nuisance claim. In turn, Thames challenged Judge Havery's finding that the water company had infringed Mr Marcic's right to respect for his home under Article Eight of the Human Rights Convention and his right to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. Mr Marcic appealed because he said Judge Havery's ruling deprived him of his entitlement to damages for the period before October 2000, when the Human Rights Act came into force.
As well as finding for Mr Marcic on the nuisance claim, the appeal judges said Thames had not persuaded them Judge Havery was wrong to hold that the company had infringed Mr Marcic's Convention rights. After the ruling Mr Marcic said: "This is very important for me because my life as well as my home has been ruined."
Karen South, his solicitor, said: "The Court of Appeal has held that if there is to be flooding from sewers which causes damage to a home, then a blanket immunity for sewage undertakers no longer applies."
Mr Marcic could not put a figure on the amount of damages he would claim, but has spent £16,000 on work to prevent flood water entering his house. The sum of damages is expected to be assessed at a future High Court hearing.
Lord Phillips said Mr Marcic was not alone in his plight. He said: "In Thames's area there are many thousands of households facing the risk of internal or external flooding as a consequence of discharge from overburdened sewers."
He said 18,000 properties in Thames's area suffered or were at risk of internal flooding.It would cost Thames about £1bn to alleviate the flooding problems of all its customers in a similar position to Mr Marcic, or whose houses were at risk of internal flooding every 10 years.
During the hearing, lawyers for Thames said the country's nine other water companies would also face huge bills. They warned the ruling could result in substantial increases in water charges in England and Wales.
A Thames Water spokesman said after the ruling that the figure of £1bn was based solely on Judge Havery's own calculations. He said: "We are still looking at the implications of the judgment and would need time to arrive at a reliable figure."Reuse content