7 families sue stump dump owner for $8.5 million, citing damage to their health BALTIMORE COUNTY

November 13, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

For the past 18 months, Irwin Desser and his wife, Rona, have lived with the stench of smoke drifting across their lawn and into their home on Rices Lane in Granite.

They say the smoke gets into their clothing, has stopped them from enjoying outdoor picnics and walks, and has hurt the value of their property. Mrs. Desser has even developed a severe case of bronchitis, brought on, the couple believes, by the incessant smoke from the smoldering Granite stump dump, a mile west of their home.

"No, you don't get used to it," Mr. Desser said. "It's a nasty experience. . . . This fire has been a terrible thing."

This week, the Dessers and six other families, including a woman suing on behalf of herself and her dead husband, filed an $8.5 million lawsuit against the stump dump's owner, James F. Jett, and his Christmas tree company, Patapsco Valley Farms Inc.

The 14-page complaint, filed Tuesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court, charges Mr. Jett with negligence for piling stumps and other debris together, and for letting the site catch fire. The fire started Feb. 2, 1991.

According to the complaint, Mr. Jett's alleged failure to properly store the debris and keep it from catching fire has caused some injuries. The suit mentions "bronchitis, coughing, sore throats, hoarseness, headaches, sleep deprivation, anxiety, exhaustion and other respiratory problems" as ailments attributed to the smoke.

Michael Tanczyn, Mr. Jett's attorney, would not comment when reached at his home last night. Mr. Jett was unavailable for comment.

The suit, which seeks $3.5 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, charges that Mr. Jett's conduct in accepting the stumps and other debris over a 10-year period was "characterized by evil motive, ill will and fraud."

"The defendants acted expressly with evil motive and ill will to fraudulently deceive the citizens living near the Dogwood Road property . . . in order to maximize their financial profit from improperly dumping land-clearing debris," the suit states.

Before the fire started, Mr. Desser said, he'd heard about the complaints of Dogwood Road residents who didn't like the parade of dump trucks rumbling through their neighborhood to Mr. Jett's property. However, he said, he never thought much about the stump dump, because he and his wife "didn't live close enough to be bothered by" the trucks.

Once the fire started, Mr. Desser said, he found that winds in the area tend to blow west to east, bringing the smoke across his home in the 3100 block of Rices Lane.

used to have cookouts very often," he said. "But we haven't done that since [the fire]. We used to take walks, both for pleasure and exercise. After this fire started, we just quit."

Later this month, work crews at the dump expect to finish burying the burning stumps under tons of dirt. The idea is to put out the fire by smothering it.

Next Wednesday, Mr. Jett will be in Circuit Court. Judge James Smith is expected to decide whether Mr. Jett will be allowed to resume limited mulching operations.

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