By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — An attorney representing the city of Wausau is asking a judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by a homeowner trying to collect on a $11,353.54 insurance claim.
A motion filed Jan. 12 by outside attorney Daniel Varline claims the homeowner, Brent Zocher, does not have the necessary experts or support to prove his claim that the city’s negligence resulted in significant water damage to his west side home. Zocher, who does not have an attorney and said he cannot afford to hire one, has been fighting the city since Sept. 4, 2014. That’s when Zocher initially filed a claim with the city asking to be reimbursed for cleanup expenses. The city denied his claim two months later.
Now, Zocher is asking the city to pay for the full value of his home, plus court costs and other fees. The 10th Avenue home, which Zocher purchased in 1999, is valued at about $77,900, according to county land records.
City officials have met in closed session to discuss Zocher’s claim four times to discuss a potential settlement, but all four times ultimately chose to push forward in fighting the claim. As of late November, the city had already paid Varline, an attorney with Vavczyk & Varline, LLC, $45,015.56 in legal fees, according to City Attorney Anne Jacobson.
That amount does not include work performed in December or January, when Varline deposed five witnesses who Zocher plans to call at trial.
According to court filings, one of those witness said he would not be able to testify on Zocher’s behalf because he is actually the city’s expert witness. Another witness said a conflict of interest will prevent him from testifying. The remaining three witnesses said in their statements they do not wish to testify, according to court documents.
According to the original complaint, the area surrounding Zocher’s home underwent multiple zoning changes and developments after the house was built in the 1940s. Zocher claims those changes ultimately caused his property to become part of the city’s storm water sewer system and created a watershed tributary that channels stormwater through Zocher’s land.
Zocher alleges the city was “well aware” of potential effects of zoning and development on the land prior to the September 2014 storm because stormwater had channeled twice before onto the property.
But municipal stormwater management is a complex topic, and proving that the city was negligent would require expert witnesses, Varline wrote in his brief to Judge Jill Falstad.
“Despite 2 1/2 years of litigation and discovery, Zocher does not have the necessary experts or expert support to prove his claim,” Varline wrote.
A jury trial is set to begin in August.