Sewer back-ups are a problem facing every city’s residents. Claims for damages to homes caused by sewer back-ups probably lead to more frustrations and hard feelings than any other single kind of claim.
Cities are not automatically liable for resulting damages whenever a sewer backs up. The city is only liable for those damages if the back up was caused by the city’s negligence.
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homeowners’ insurance policies exclude damage resulting from sewer backups leaving the expense to the homeowner. While some insurance carrier’s policies do provide sewer backup coverage they usually come with limitations. Many times, homeowners look to the city to pay their damages when their own insurance company denies their claim.
There is no guarantee that a city’s sewers will never back up. A sewer system is not a closed system. Any resident or business that is hooked up to the sewer dumps waste in it. Some of the things dumped into the sewer system can clog the system. Large amounts of grease from restaurants and disposable diapers are two common problems.
Cities have rules prohibiting the dumping of these things into the sewers and have tried to educate and even file charges against the violators. There is no way the city can absolutely prevent these things from happening.
Other factors can cause back-ups as well. Tree roots can grow into and obstruct the sewer lines, or extraordinary amounts of rainfall can infiltrate the system and overload it.
Many courts have made it clear that the city is liable for sewer back up damages if, and only if, the city’s negligence causes damages.
There are some basic questions most courts look at in these matters:
- Was there a defect in the city’s sewer line?
- Was there a sag or break in the line, bad design of the line, etc?
- Did the city know, or should the city have known about the defect?
- Was there a previous complaint or report of a problems, and should the problems have been discovered during routine inspection or maintenance of lines?
- Did the city fail to correct the defect within a reasonable time after learning of it?
- Did that failure by the city cause damages?
It is important to determine if the city exercises reasonable care in inspecting and maintaining its sewer lines, and if the city responds to the problem in a timely manner. It is very important for the city to perform regular maintenance and inspection of its sewers and to keep good records of when that maintenance and inspection was done.