The owners of a Morrisville restaurant that was flooded with sewage last fall after a catastrophic mishap by the septic truck operator is suing the waste removal company for $2.5 million.
The restaurant, 10 Railroad Street, reopened earlier this month, after undergoing a near-total overhaul.
The lawyer representing 10 Railroad, Chandler Matson, filed a lawsuit Sept. 9 in federal court in Massachusetts against Wind River Environmental, the Massachusetts company that owns Hartigan Wastewater. Hartigan was the company that was hired to clean out 10 Railroad’s grease trap on Oct. 15, 2019.
On that day — according to court records, health department reports, a recounting by the restaurant owner and an acknowledgement by Wind River itself — the Hartigan truck operator somehow engaged the truck’s discharge mechanism instead of the pumping mechanism. The result: countless gallons of raw sewage sprayed all over the kitchen, across the hall, and out into the streets of Morrisville.
“Gut to the studs.” That was the directive from the Vermont Department of Health, according to Jimmy Goldsmith — co-owner, along with wife Kim Kaufman — during a tour of the gutted building last December. They had no comment this week.
“Every crevice of the restaurant fell victim to the sewage truck’s discharge,” Matson wrote in his complaint. “In addition to the total and complete physical destruction of the restaurant, 10 Railroad’s stellar reputation has gone from being literally the ‘best’ restaurant in the area to the punchline of endless jokes.”
The lawsuit asks the court to consider four allegations: negligence, gross negligence, trespass and unlawful mischief.
It asks Wind River to pay “compensatory, consequential and general damages in excess of” $2.5 million; return any money paid by 10 Railroad; and punitive damages “on account of the outrageous nature of (Wind River’s) willful and wanton disregard for obvious hazards.”
Wind River had not yet responded to Matson’s claim as of press time.
Last December, though, Chris Baker, vice president of safety at Wind River, admitted “our operator did have an unfortunate incident that resulted in a spill at 10 Railroad Street. We responded immediately by engaging a professional emergency remediation service to clean the impacted areas. We regret that this situation occurred, and have taken action to ensure that this type of situation doesn’t recur.”
Matson claimed that while the vacuum truck is capable of pumping and transporting a wide variety of liquids/semi-liquids, operators are not supposed to pump and transport human feces/sewage prior to servicing a facility that provides food services.
He also claimed Wind River arranged for the truck driver to be transported from the scene “immediately following disaster,” and the man hasn’t been seen since, and 10 Railroad has no knowledge of his identity or experience “(or lack thereof).”
Goldsmith, on a tour of the gutted building last December with his in-house counsel, said the demolition and cleanup had been taken care of by 10 Railroad’s and Hartigan’s insurance. But, he said, that wouldn’t pay for lost revenue, lost wages for employees, or the potential loss of even the most loyal customers who know what happened.
According to Matson, the owners, managers and staff “have been forced to spend thousands of hours attempting to clean up, remediate and rebuild.”
He said every piece of equipment in the restaurant had to be replaced — cooking and serving tools, the serving utensils, TVs and audio equipment, furniture, pictures — as well as the HVAC, plumbing, electrical and grease trap systems.
What might be much harder to replace is the restaurant’s reputation, and Matson paints an extremely bleak picture of the future.
“This stain has fallen upon not only 10 Railroad, but upon each of the well-known owners’ other establishments, with public conception being that the incident was somehow the fault of the owner who ‘cut corners’ or hired ‘non-professionals,’ and many remarking that they simply cannot remove the images from their heads to consume food,” Matson wrote in his complaint.