Neighbor sues neighbor over retaining wall collapse on historic property

By Kelly Holleran | Mar 18, 2009

An Alton couple is accusing its neighbors of being responsible for the collapse of its stone retaining wall.

On March 13 Keith W. and Shirley D. Wilson filed a suit in Madison County Circuit Court against Edward G. and Susan A. Benz, saying the Benzes owned a gutter that drained onto the Wilsons' property and caused the collapse of the wall.

The Wilsons and the Benzes have owned adjoining premises on Pearl Street for more than 10 years, according to court documents. The Wilsons live in a house registered on the National Historic Registry and the Benzes own a wood shop next door.

The wood shop is close to the stone retaining wall, "the majority of which is located on Plaintiffs' premises, and which extends a few feet on to Defendants' property and attaches to the Defendants' wood shop building," the suit states.

Throughout the extent of time the Wilsons owned their home, the Benzes maintained a gutter, downspout and drainpipe that led from the roof of their wood shop and drained onto the Wilsons' property behind their portion of the retaining wall, according to the complaint.

Eventually, the drainpipe caused a pit to form on the Wilsons' land that increased to a depth of several feet. The pipe also caused seepage, subsurface soil erosion and a substantial increase in lateral earth pressure behind the wall, the Wilsons allege.

"At no time did Plaintiffs agree, give permission, acquiesce, or otherwise allow the Defendants' intrusion onto their land, through Defendants' use of the drainpipe and water diversion," the suit states. "Defendants knew or should have known that locating their drainpipe on Plaintiffs' land, in their back yard, behind their retaining wall, would result in irreparable damage and harm to Plaintiffs' yard and retaining wall."

During the night of March 18 and March 19, 2008, the wall collapsed, the complaint says.

Because the Wilsons' house is on the National History Registry, they are required to replace the wall the same way it was originally constructed more than 100 years ago, which will cost between $15,000 and $50,000, the complaint says.

In the three-count suit, the Wilsons are seeking a judgment of more than $15,000 but less than $50,000 and actual and punitive damages in excess of $50,000, plus costs and attorneys' fees.

Because they will need access to the Benzes' property in order to rebuild the wall, the Wilsons have also asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the Benzes from restricting the Wilsons to enter onto their property to repair the wall.

Leslie A. Wood of Thomas, Mottaz and Eastman in Alton will be representing them.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 09-L-0256.

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