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Judge awards class certification for Hideaway Hills residents

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Hideaway Hills Sinkhole

Weeds grow around the sinkhole in the Hideaway Hills neighborhood in September 2021. 

A South Dakota judge has awarded class certification to all owners of homes rendered worthless by unstable underground mines operated by the state of South Dakota.

The ruling on Thursday means all 158 homeowners in the Hideaway Hills neighborhood are part of the class-action lawsuit unless they opt out. A lawsuit filed by the Fox Rothschild law firm will now proceed.

A sinkhole opened in the neighborhood April 27, 2020, exposing an abandoned gypsum mine and forcing 40 people to evacuate from 15 homes. Since then, Fox Rothschild and another local law firm have performed multiple studies to indicate and find what is in the subsurface.

Fox Rothschild attorney Kathleen Barrow led the effort for the class certification. The case claims the abandoned mine poses a threat to all Hideaway Hills homes.

Barrow said obtaining class certification is a major milestone that follows extensive work by geological experts to document the dangers faced by all homes in the neighborhood and the challenges that homeowners would face pursuing individual lawsuits.

“This has been a living nightmare for every family in this neighborhood. The judge carefully reviewed the detailed findings from geological experts and agreed that a class-action lawsuit is the best way for homeowners to obtain justice,” Barrow said. “We look forward to the next phase of this litigation and continuing to seek a fair resolution for members of the class.”

According to geological and engineering analysis, correcting the subsurface dangers would require removing the homes, Barrow said. She said the removal would cost more than the homes are worth and provide no guarantee that the remediation would work.

Barrow said mounting a lawsuit would be too costly for any individual homeowner. As a class-action lawsuit, Barrow said those costs would be shared by all of the plaintiffs.

In 2021, Fox Rothchild drilled nine holes in the neighborhood to better understand the makeup. A memo filed in the case likens the neighborhood to the "Titanic," the area is "sinking fast" and 350 lives in 158 homes are at risk.

The memo notes that core samples from drilling indicated to experts that "conditions at Hideaway Hills are so hazardous that all of the homes are worthless and should not be inhabited. In fact, those forced to continue to live in their homes: 'may be given little or no warning before another large subsidence event occurs.'"

The drilling found 16 active collapses of the underground mine close to East Daisy Drive. Water and rain have accelerated the rate of the gypsum's deterioration and damage done to homes. Studies indicate that a portion of the ceiling of the underground mine has fallen since April 2020, according to the memo.

"The experts have concluded the failure of the subsurface to support the surface at Hideaway Hills cannot be fixed," the memo states. "A competent remediation for all the voids at Hideaway Hills would require homes to be removed from the land in order to evacuate the underground mine areas and bring in appropriate fill to be back-filled into the spaces."

The memo claims that the entire neighborhood is collapsing, every home has been damaged, all of the homes have been rendered valueless, and the conditions of the subsurface of the land is responsible.

Contact Nathan Thompson at nathan.thompson@rapidcityjournal.com.

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