Couple sues Pittsburgh over landslide that destroyed their home
An Ingram couple is suing Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and several property owners in Duquesne Heights, alleging they are responsible for a landslide that destroyed their home on Greenleaf Street in 2018.
Beth and Charles Butler contend they contacted the city repeatedly starting in 2015 about fallen trees and slides from the top of Mt. Washington and Emeraldview Park, both of which were located above their home. Emeraldview, which is owned by the city, surrounds the Butler’s property, according to their attorney, Todd Elliott.
A large section of the hillside collapsed in February 2018 and buried the Butler’s home of 35 years. City officials evacuated the Butlers two days before the slide.
The lawsuit filed last month alleges city officials knew about the problem, yet did nothing to prevent the landslide.
“The city gave them some assurances,” Elliott said. “They said they were hiring an engineer, etc., etc., but the Butlers never heard from the city.”
Water running from Emeraldview and properties owned by Joseph and Ruth Ann Martinelli, Paul Gitnik and Gene Svrcek contributed to the slide, according to the lawsuit. It also contends that illegal dumping on the Martinelli property contributed.
Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, declined comment as did attorney John Kwsaneski, who represents the parks conservancy. Attorney’s for the Martinelli’s, Gitnik and Svrcek did not return calls seeking comment.
Gitnik, an attorney and administrative law judge for the Pennsylvania Board of Finance and Review and former Pittsburgh Planning Commissioner, said he reduced stormwater runoff from his property when building his house several years ago. He said he hired engineers before building to map out drainage and check stability of the hillside.
He said he complied with all city regulations in having the stormwater piped into catch basins that drain into sanitary sewer lines.
“We actually reduced the amount of stormwater that went down over the hill,” he said. “We did not remove any soil or add any soil to our site. We were relatively level, so the earth moving was not very significant. We built to the actual contours of the land.”
Elliott said the Butlers lost their home, a duplex, and all of its contents and had just finished paying off a mortgage.
They had plans to retire and use rent from one side of the duplex as a retirement income source, he said. They lived in a hotel room for months and later had to rent an apartment. Elliott said they recently purchased a house in Ingram.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Elliott said the Butlers lost at least $400,000, including the house, contents and money paid for rent. Insurance does not cover landslide damage.
Officials blamed a record amount of rainfall in 2018 – 57.83 inches – for numerous landslides across the Pittsburgh region. The previous record set in 2004 was 57.41 inches.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .