It has been a year since water from Tygart Creek came rushing into downtown Olive Hill and still the aftermath of the flooding lingers.
The town has come together to rebuild and revitalize but there seems to be a growing feeling of unease from many still trying to recover.
As of July 13, there have been 33 claims filed with the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) and Collins & Company, which are the City of Olive Hill's insurance providers, alleging liability for the severity of last year’s flooding and for the magnitude of damage sustained by homes and businesses.
City Attorney George Hogg released the list to the Journal-Times of those who have filed claims due to loss of property.
The claimants include: Tyler's Pizza, Flowers by Jeanie, Sturgill Music, Keeton Barber Shop, the American Legion Post 138, Dr. Randy Steele, J and R Rental, Kevin Jordan, Raybourn Auto Parts, Walker’s Resturant, Carhartt's, Sally's, Wesleyan Church, H & R Block, Gene Knipp, Terry Thompson, Phillip Carter, Bessie Bond, Linda and Burl Hanshaw, Jewell Brown estate, Paul Lewis Rentals, Sam Lowe, Johnny Napier, Gayle Cline, Jim Short, Stephens Farm Supply, Flashback Framing, Holbrook Computer, Patrick Flannery law office, Donny Owens, Larry Steagall, Fox law office, and Tim Johnson.
Temple Juett, chief operations officer and general counsel for the KLC, said it is not uncommon to see such a high number of insurance claims with an event that affects so many people.
However, he noted that with a natural disaster fault has to be shown for a claim to be found valid.
“When you have a natural disaster, it is not specifically caused by an entity or an individual, as with insurance claims such as a car accident,” said Juett. “In this instance, someone would have had to do something to cause the damages to be higher or the flooding to be more severe than it otherwise would have or must prove that said losses may not have occurred.”
Juett said each of these claims will be handled in the same way as all insurance claims, ensuring that liability is placed with the responsible parties.
“Each claimant will submit a theory of liability and damage with the city and we will conduct individual investigations that will include talking to people, city officials and gathering information on damages,” said Juett. “Then we will verify if the city has a responsibility to pay for any damages and exactly how much they are liable to pay for each claim.”
He reiterated that first the liability had to be determined and only afterward could the money owed be assessed.
One claim filed with the KLC and Collins & Company allegedly has already been paid out, reportedly in the amount of about $159,000 to Donny Lykins.
The Journal-Times was unable to contact Lykins to verify the payment.
For several of the claimants, some of whom wish to remain off the record, this action was interpreted as the city admitting fault.
Alma Sturgill of Sturgill's Music was among many who lost so much during the flood.
“One merchant has already received money from the insurance and the flood destroyed nearly everything in my store and cleanup efforts were wonderful but that does not put merchandise and the memories back on the shelves,” said Sturgill. “I've not heard anything yet on my claim but it seems there is money for some and hopefully this will help keep the doors open on our businesses, because with no stores there can be no town.”
Jim Short was another claimant who went on the record with the Journal-Times.
“I decided to file when I realized the city was at fault, as I had suspected they were when they continually ignored everyone's pleas to clean out Tygart,” said Short. “Even if I am paid every dime I have asked for, I still cannot re-establish the businesses I have worked on for 32 years of my life.”
Short said most importantly, he wants the city to take ownership for what it did.
“A city government is supposed to protect its people and I would just like to see acknowledgment of their fault, an apology to the people impacted and an opportunity to rebuild,” said Short.
Patrick Flannery's private law firm in the downtown area sustained substantial damage when water rose nearly five feet into the building.
“When an insurance adjuster looks at a claim, they don't just pay out, there has to be a legal obligation,” said Flannery. “Because they have already compensated one claimant, I feel that my claim and many of the others are very valid claims and should be handled appropriately and in a timely manner.”
Mike Fox of the Fox Law Office sat down with the Journal-Times to discuss his reasoning for filing.
“I filed this claim because the city is liable due to negligent actions, which caused the flooding to be far worse than it should have been,” said Fox. “I have lived in this town my entire life and have never seen a flood like the one in May, the city's conduct caused the water to rise higher and faster than it ever has before.”
Fox said that he owns five properties in the downtown area and had the creeks been taken care of in a responsible manner, his buildings would have sustained little or no damage.
“Any compensation I receive will be put right back into my properties so I have the ability to rehabilitate the damages and participate in the rebuilding of downtown Olive Hill,” said Fox. “I also hope that when the city is found liable it will impress upon them the necessity to protect the city and to fulfill their duty to prevent such severe floods in the future.”
Juett said each claim will stand on its own.
“One claim does not necessarily depend on the outcome of another, while some may have similar elements they will all have different factors that will impact the outcome,” said Juett.
Juett also emphasized the difference between and insurance claim and litigation.
“The real distinction is, with litigation a person is using the court system often after an unfavorable decision or because there is no acceptance of liability,” said Juett. “If the insurance claims are denied, it is up to the claimant to pursue litigation and anyone has the legal right to go straight to the court system to seek compensation instead of filing an insurance claim.”
The Journal-Times plans to publish other stories as this matter unfolds.
Shayla Menville can be reached at email@example.com or by telephone at 286-4201.