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State of Rhode Island Found Liable for Drainage Problems Causing Flooding on a Cemetery

The laws of trespass are generally understood to apply to people who enter or remain on a piece of personal property without the consent of the owner or the legal right to do so. From a legal standpoint, the theory of trespass is much broader. Trespass to land is generally understood to entail a wrongful interference with one’s possessory rights in real property and can extend both underground and into airspace. In the event that a neighboring property owner modifies their own property in a manner that disrupts their neighbor from possessing or using their property, a trespass may have occurred. A Rhode Island Superior Court recently found that the state of Rhode Island is liable for trespass based on a stormwater drainage pit maintained by the state that repeatedly overflowed into a cemetery.

The plaintiff in the recently decided case is a cemetery that was founded in 1902 in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Adjacent to the cemetery is a roadway that is maintained by the defendant, the State of Rhode Island. Until 1984, the state road had problems with flooding during times of heavy rain. In 1984, the plaintiff gave permission for the defendant to construct a drainage ditch and seepage pit on the cemetery property to alleviate the roadway flooding. Pursuant to the agreement, the defendant compensated the plaintiff and agreed to make reasonable attempts to reconstruct the road in a way that would alleviate the flooding and return the plaintiff’s property. The defiant never reconstructed the road, and the drainage system remains on the plaintiff’s property. According to the facts discussed in the judicial ruling, during times of heavy rains, the seepage pit overfills with water, which flows onto other parts of the plaintiff’s property.

The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant in state court in 2015, challenging the easement for the drainage ditch and alleging that the defendant has committed an actionable trespass against the plaintiff by allowing the seepage pit to overflow and flood the plaintiff’s property. The court rejected the plaintiff’s claims that the easement was invalid. The court did find that because the pit overflows and floods into areas of the plaintiff’s property not included in the easement, that a trespass had occurred. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff on that issue, reserving the question of damages for a later date.

How to Alleviate a Trespass on Your Rhode Island Property

If you or someone you know believes that their property is being trespassed upon by a neighbor or government agency, there may be a cause of action to remove the trespass or obtain compensation for the loss. What looks like a trespass may be permissible as an easement or right-of-way, but an experienced real estate attorney can help you review your options to regain the full use of your property. The qualified Rhode Island real estate lawyers with Bilodeau Capalbo are experienced in easement and trespass issues, and can advise our clients on what actions to take to protect their rights. Whether you are trying to alleviate a trespass or have been accused of committing a trespass, we are here to help. Call us at 401-300-4055 to discuss your case and schedule a free consultation with a qualified Rhode Island real estate attorney today.

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