Six entrepreneurs injured in May 2010 by the effects of flooding in Sandomierz and the surrounding area will receive compensation with interest.
It results from settlements signed today between the group proceedings participants and the State Treasury – Państwowe Gospodarstwo Wodne Wody Polskie and the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship.
The settlements were concluded in connection with the courts’ determination in September 2022 of the liability for damages of the State Treasury (Wody Polskie) and the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship for the improper exercise of public authority in the field of flood protection.
In the autumn, immediately after the 2020 conclusion of the class action, an invitation to settlement talks was sent to the responsible parties. For the first year, the parties were still awaiting the outcome of the cassation complaints, which, fortunately for the group, were not accepted for hearing by the Supreme Court. After this period, the talks gained proper momentum.
‘We are pleased that, after more than a year of difficult talks, we have reached settlements in respect of the six affected businesses. Of course, the signing of the settlements does not close the talks on the amicable settlement of the remaining compensation claims, so we will continue the dialogue. A negotiation meeting is still planned for November regarding the other eight entrepreneurs. This is because we are conducting the talks sequentially.’ – comments Agnieszka Trzaska-Śmieszek, attorney at law for the injured party.
Firstly, this turn of events means that victims will soon receive compensation – the damages they have suffered will be compensated in real terms to the extent that they have not yet been compensated. Secondly, it confirms that the class action limited to determining liability has passed its test.
The liability of the public authorities was determined in the context of the class action. They did not run away from implementing this ruling to another lawsuit for payment. Instead, they opted for an amicable settlement on the amount of the damage claims in respect of which it was established that they were responsible for their satisfaction.
‘I am also pleased to see that the approach, still relatively unpopular among our administration, to seek amicable solutions instead of waiting for the outcome of a court case has prevailed. Until now, public entities tended to prefer waiting for a court outcome (even if it was known in advance that it would be unfavourable) rather than seeking a compromise and arriving at a settlement. Such waiting was more convenient for officials but inefficient for all parties.’ – adds Agnieszka Trzaska-Śmieszek, attorney for the injured party.
COURSE OF PROCEEDINGS
In the group proceedings, the courts determined that the defendants, State Treasury and Swietokrzyskie Voivodeship, were liable for damages for the improper exercise of public authority in the area of flood protection duties, which led to the breach of the right-bank embankment of the Vistula River in Sandomierz in the Koćmierzów district in May 2010 and the subsequent flooding of the right-bank area of Sandomierz and the surrounding area with flood waters. It was assumed that the defendants were guilty of a number of negligent acts regarding the maintenance of the capacity of the so-called Vistula river embankment in the Sandomierz area by omitting to cut down trees and bushes on an ongoing basis, as well as with regard to ensuring the correct height of the flood protection embankment.
The action by a group of flood victims from Sandomierz was one of the first class actions in Poland. It was filed on 1 September 2010, just over a month after the Act came into force. Initially, the victims demanded that liability be established not only for the State Treasury and the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship but also for the Sandomierz Poviat and the Sandomierz Municipality. The claim as to the latter two entities was dismissed by the Regional Court’s judgment of 19 October 2017. The State Treasury and the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, in turn, filed appeals. In June 2019, the first appeal hearing took place, at which the Court decided to refer the legal questions to the Supreme Court. On 27 February 2020, the Supreme Court adopted a resolution in which it indicated that a local government unit, such as a voivodeship, is responsible for properly implementing the flood protection tasks imposed by the Water Law on the Voivodeship Marshal. Subsequently, on 7 September 2020, the Court of Appeal, after hearing the representatives of the consulting entity that prepared the comprehensive opinion in the case, issued a judgment dismissing the appeal of the State Treasury and the Świętokrzyskie Voivodship and closed the hearing.
This case is an example that confirms that holding the State Treasury and local government entities liable is indeed possible and that persons who have suffered damage due to the improper exercise of public authority can obtain compensation.