With denied claims, residents pay for broken doors, flooded basements

With denied claims, residents pay for broken doors, flooded basements

PAWTUCKET – As it turns out, Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler from “Law and Order: SVU” may not have been giving the full truth when they broke down someone’s door and told them to send the bill to the city.

A denied claim for damages by city resident Peter Tran last week highlighted the fact that it’s the property owner, and not city taxpayers as a wider whole, who often foots the bill when a door gets broken down.

The City Council’s committee on claims and pending suits, led by new Chairwoman Elena Vasquez, last Wednesday said no to Tran’s claim for $960 in compensation for an incident last summer where police broke down his door when he wasn’t home as they searched for what they believed to be a missing child, a search that came up empty. When Tran returned later, he found the front door broken and in need of replacing.

City Solicitor Frank Milos got members up to speed on what he described as the public necessity doctrine, where police are absolved of responsibility if it is shown that they didn’t act negligently and that they were acting in the best interest of the community in making sure greater harm didn’t occur.

The city sees these difficult cases from time to time, said Milos, and they’re complicated because there’s not a lot of well-settled case law. They acted reasonably based on the information they had, he said, and as in the majority of cases, the city had no duty to pay the owner since these reasonable actions were taken based on public necessity.

Pawtucket had a similar case last year when firefighters responding to an emergency medical call broke down a door only to learn that it had been a crank call, said Milos.

Milos said he couldn’t say whether police could have or should have done more in the Tran case before deciding to break down the door, but they felt there was a child inside and they needed to make sure they were safe.

Councilor Melissa DaRosa said she thought the claim should be denied, saying police seemed to be acting reasonably and within their rights to enter the building. Councilor Mike Araujo agreed, saying the damage was unfortunate, but safety was paramount and police had looked for other avenues to search for the child. He said it was unfortunate about the damage, but made the motion to deny.

The committee last week also denied the claim of Erica Forster for $1,700 over a sewer backup that led to the furniture in her basement being ruined.

Milos also gave some background on this one, saying that while Pawtucket’s sewer system is old, it’s also adequate, and officials continue to seek out creative ways, including seeking grant funds, to modernize and update it the best they can.

Milos said he’s not a big fan of the term “act of God” when it comes to such cases, but that’s unfortunately what causes an incident such as this. The city ultimately needs to determine whether there were those circumstances beyond anyone’s control or was there some negligence or malfeasance by the city, such as tree roots infiltrating the system or some other clog situation, that would place the blame on Pawtucket?

Milos said there didn’t appear to be any evidence that the flooding of Forster’s basement in early July of last year was caused by anything other than that act of God due to heavy rains.

The committee had postponed the matter from last November, noted Araujo, asking Forster to bring receipts and estimates, but the city never received any receipts.