Suit Targets Florida Utility in Water Main Outage

Adam Moskowitz says thousands of Fort Lauderdale businesses were affected

Published in 2020 Florida Super Lawyers Magazine

An attempt by a Florida Power & Light subcontractor to make underground electrical repairs near the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport went wrong last July 17, rupturing a 42-inch water main and leaving many Fort Lauderdale businesses temporarily high and dry.

Now, Miami attorney Adam Moskowitz and Fort Lauderdale lawyers William Scherer at Conrad & Scherer and Cristina Pierson at Kelley Uustal are seeking class action status for a lawsuit against the utility and three of its subcontractors on behalf of all the affected companies.

"This case will involve thousands of small, family-owned businesses, as well as large companies, if our Certification Motion is granted,” says Moskowitz, who practices class action and mass torts at The Moskowitz Law Firm and is an adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Law. “Our individual clients are a group of restaurants, hotels and a law firm that suffered damages from the same water main break, as all of the other class members. … They were all forced to shut down and directly suffered different amounts of damages.”

The companies say the outage affected air conditioning, food service and fire-sprinkler protection, among other things. “Our preliminary estimate puts class damages at many hundreds of millions of dollars,” says Moskowitz, “given that many thousands of businesses each lost thousands—some tens of thousands of dollars—in revenue.”

A temporary fix that afternoon was accompanied by a boil-water alert for days afterward, according to a July 2019 article in the Miami Herald, which also noted that FP&L declined to comment for the story.

The lawsuit alleges that FP&L “never even visited the jobsite” and hired a “cheaper subcontractor” who hired a less expensive subcontractor, who then hired a less expensive, unlicensed subcontractor—who drilled without verifying the markings for the location of the utilities.

The suit says, “Defendants have even now filed extensive cross-claims, blaming each other for these terrible mistakes.”

Moskowitz says a diagram existed showing the water main’s location, and that the subcontractor “could have easily and cheaply located the water main with simple spot-digging or ground-penetrating radar.”

The case is set for a class certification trial in September before 17th Circuit Judge William Haury Jr. The defendants failed to persuade Haury to move it to a later date. “We already moved the date 60 days due to the COVID virus,” Moskowitz says.

"HDD [horizontal directional drilling] is an inherently dangerous activity,” he says. “You are digging blindly underground where there are any number of obstructions that you need to exercise the utmost care in locating and avoiding.”

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