Schmuck of the Week

Family drinks, bathes in sewage water? Firm to pay $900K for schmucky mistake

Installing a water softener is supposed to improve the quality of the wet stuff flowing into your house. But that's not the way it worked out for Nick and Roxanne Cattaneo. After paying for a new system, they felt that their water had an unpleasant smell -- and no wonder, since the guy installing it had accidentally hooked up to a sewage line. Oh, shit!

This phrase is appropriate both to the Cattaneos and the company, which a jury has instructed to pay more than $900,000 because of the botch.

Here's how U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson describes the main facts of the case in a document on view below:
Plaintiffs Nick and Roxanne Cattaneo sue on behalf of themselves and their child Elijah. In their Complaint...plaintiffs allege that in June 2006 they purchased a water refinement system for their home from Aquakleen Products, Inc. However, it is undisputed that Aquakleen's installer, who was not a licensed plumber, installed the system improperly, creating a "cross-connection" between the Aquakleen system and a sewer pipe in the home. Plaintiffs claim that, as a result, sewage contaminated their water supply, which in turn caused them to sustain illnesses and damages.
That mixing sewage with drinking water is a bad thing seems pretty self-evident. But Aquakleen, a California company whose website notes that the firm has been in business for 67 years, energetically fought the Cattaneos' litigation, which was initially filed in 2010. The document below includes all sorts of allusions to drug use, Crohn's disease and the supposedly filthy condition of the home in question, which the family is said to have sold in 2009. The implication: The Cattaneos were short of cash and saw a lawsuit against Aquakleen as a potentially big score.

Still, there was one overriding factor: No one denies that the sewage line was cross-connected. Indeed, the original complaint, accessed by 7News, which first reported about the jury's award, included a notice sent to customers by South Adams County Water that reveals fears that the problem may not have been isolated. It reads:

It has recently come to the District's attention that water softeners are being improperly installed in homes within the District's service area and without the required permits from the City of Commerce City. District staff have observed cross-connections from the drinking water system to sewer lines with the potential to contaminate not only the drinking water in the home, but also the community system!
In the end, the jury gave Roxanne $465,000 on claims of "negligent infliction of emotional distress and extreme and outrageous conduct," the station reports, while Nick was given an additional $462,000 on a Colorado Consumer Protection act claim.

We hope that wherever the Cattaneos are living today, their water is sewage-free. And now, if you'll excuse us, we've got to gag for about twenty minutes.

Here's the 7News report, followed by the aforementioned court document.

Cattaneo v. Aquakleen
More from our Schmuck of the Week archive: "Charles Bush busted for allegedly stealing his neighbor's sex toys."

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