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Salmonella lawsuit still possible

Claimants have two years to file

Ruth Heide, Valley Courier

May 21st, 2009

ALAMOSA — Legal actions resulting from salmonella illnesses, death and business losses last year still threaten the City of Alamosa whose water system was linked to the 2008 outbreak.

Contaminants in the water supply led to more than 400 reported salmonella cases, about two dozen hospitalizations and one death, Romeo resident Larry Lee Velasquez, Sr., 55.

City Attorney Erich Schwiesow told the Alamosa City Council during its meeting on Wednesday that he received communication recently from the law firm representing most of the people who indicated last year they might take legal action against the city.

The Marler Clark law firm out of Seattle, Wash., is handling most of the 40-plus claims for damages ranging from $100 to $1 million that the city received last year. None of the claims have yet turned into a lawsuit but claimants have up to two years from the March 2008 incident to file a lawsuit.

The claims being handled by Marler Clark, in addition to a $1 million claim from Velasquez’s widow, involve claims for 14 minor children and seek upwards of $50,000 in damages per claimant.

Five other claims were submitted from folks not represented by Marler Clark - two family claims and three business losses attributed to the water crisis.

Schwiesow said in talking with the lead attorney on the phone recently, the attorney told Schwiesow he hoped the city would look at the information the firm had sent the city and think about paying off some of these people.

“I told him I did not believe there’s negligence on the part of the city,” Schwiesow said. He said the attorney suggested otherwise.

City Manager Nathan Cherpeski told the city council that the city’s insurance carrier Travelers Insurance would have to agree to any settlement the council would make.

Schwiesow said procedurally, “The ball is in the claimants’ court to get something rolling. There’s been no lawsuit filed, and Travelers would need to be consulted on anything.”

Cherpeski said Travelers could choose to settle without the city’s permission but “we can’t settle without theirs.”

In a drinking water report from the City of Alamosa this week the city told citizens that the new water treatment plant put into service last year to meet new arsenic standards and an ongoing enhanced testing program of Alamosa’s municipal supply would ensure that an outbreak like salmonella will not occur again.

“The source of the contamination has not been determined and the investigation continues [to] identify possible ways in which it could have occurred,” the city report stated.

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