Frog-Phobic Man Wins $1.6M for Runoff
A New York State contractor with a lifelong fear of frogs has been awarded $1.6 million after a developer's runoff turned his property into a 37-acre marsh that drew a 13-year infestation of the critters.
The verdict handed Paul Marinaccio, 65, a victory over the Buffalo, NY, suburb of Clarence and developer Kieffer Industries, which had built a residential subdivision near his land.
Marinaccio is the owner of Accadia Site Contracting, a road construction company, who says he has had a deep-seated phobia of frogs since his childhood in Italy, when a property owner holding bullfrogs chased Marinaccio off his land.
“I beat the government,” Marinaccio said after a judge awarded him $1.3 million from the Town of Clarence and $328,440 from developer Bernard Kieffer, 83.
Marinaccio's seven-year legal quest ended a few weeks ago, when New York's state Court of Appeals denied him an additional $250,000 in punitive damages by Kieffer, according to a report in The Buffalo News.
'Prisoner in My Own Home'
Marinaccio told jurors about his phobia at trial in 2009. “I’m petrified of the little creatures,” he testified.
“You people don’t understand," he said. "I am petrified. I go home at night. and I can’t get in my garage because of the frogs. They’re right in front of the damn door, OK?”
Marinaccio said he had to call on his adult daughter to come over and “shoo" away the frogs.
"In the winter, it’s OK, because I know there’s no frogs,” he said. “But in the summertime, I mean I’m a damn prisoner in my own home.”
From 'Dry, Buildable' to 'a Swamp'
The problems began in 2000, Marinaccio said, when runoff diverted from a then-new Kieffer subdivision ended up on his land. A town engineer had told Marinaccio that the water would drain into a ditch on Kieffer's property. Later, however, the town discovered that the ditch was actually on Marinaccio's land and that it was too small.
Kieffer also installed pipes that drained the water onto Marinaccio’s land without his permission, reports said.
Eventually, the flooding covered 37 of Marinaccio's 40 acres, testimony showed. (See photos here.)
“At the time he bought it, it was good, dry, buildable land,” Joseph J. Manna, Marinaccio’s lawyer, told jurors during the 2009 trial. “It is now a swamp. It’s a marsh. It’s a wetland” that has bred not only frogs but mosquitoes as well.
Marinaccio, whom news reports describe as a self-made millionaire, said he had not wanted to sue, but that town officials refused to fix the problem and treated him "like I was some dumb Italian, with no education. ..."
Marinaccio said he had done some ditch work to address the problem, but had declined to do more, considering the repairs the responsibility of the town and developer.
Developer: Not My Fault
Kieffer's lawyer argued before the Court of Appeals that the town had reviewed and approved all of the developer's plans before construction began.
Attorney Michael B. Powers also said Marinaccio had thrown several town officials off his property when they came to address the problem.
Paul Marinaccio has been afraid of frogs since childhood, when a property owner chased him with a bullfrog. He said town officials treated him like a "dumb Italian" when he complained about the flooding.
“He’s relying on his engineers,” Powers told the court, according to The Buffalo News. “They’re telling him that this is not going to put any more water on there than has typically been on there in the last 10 years.
"The town says, 'We’ll get any easement that we need for this. We approve all your plans.' The Army Corps approves them all, the state approves them all. What more is there for Mr. Kieffer to do?”
Ditching the Frogs
Under a post-verdict agreement, the town has agreed to dig ditches on the edges of Marinaccio's property, so that the water can drain. That should dry out the land and, everyone hopes, drive off the frogs and mosquitoes.
As for the property's future, Marinaccio told the News, "I'm going to put cows out there."