Ruling allows city suit to move forward

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The City of Columbia Falls lawsuit against Badger Drilling Co. and its insurance company can move forward, Flathead County District Court Judge Heidi Ulbricht ruled late last month.

The case stems from an incident in August, 2011, when the city contracted Badger to drill a waterline under U.S. Highway 2 from a main near Super 1 Foods to the north that would ultimately serve the Timber Creek Village assisted living center.

Four years later, in February 2015, a sinkhole developed on the north side of the Highway. It was discovered that the water line had been drilled through a storm sewer main. The sewer main then collapsed, making a sinkhole.

The state, in turn, required the city pay for the repair, which it did, at a cost of more than $176,000.

The city, in turn, filed a claim against Badger to recoup the amount and Badger filed a claim with Cincinnati Insurance Companies, its insurer.

Cincinnati denied Badger’s claim and the city then brought suit, noting it had to make the repair in order to meet Department of Environmental Quality regulations for water lines.

Badger said it wasn’t at fault on several fronts, claiming that Montana’s Dig Law, re-empts common law, as Badger took the necessary precautions when it drilled the line.

Badger at the time it did the drilling claimed it wasn’t notified that the storm sewer was there by the state, even though it had gone through the proper notification procedures before it started drilling.

“The state did not ever locate or mark the storm drain at issue even though it was given ample time to do so,” Badger’s attorney Kristine Beal claimed previously.

Badger also claims it doesn’t owe the city, because the city volunteered to fix the problem.

But the city claimed the company should have known the drain was there, because there are manhole covers on the north side of the highway.

Ulbricht sided with Badger in part, but also sided with the city, which will allow the case to move forward.

“The court does not believe that the plain language of the Montana Dig Law precludes common law negligence actions brought by those who are not underground facility owners but are nonetheless damaged by an excavator’s failure to make an excavation in a reasonable and prudent manner,” Ulbricht ruled.

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