Despite clogged sewer main, city won't pay for backup damage
Foul-smelling brown muck filled basement
When a horrendous, foul-smelling sludge seeped into Charity Woodall's basement, she immediately called a professional for help.
"At first I thought it was my fault," she said.
But after a plumber examined the pipe connecting her home to the city's sewer main, it was determined that the city's sewer main was backed up. Her lateral was unclogged, but the brown muck did not recede in her basement.
Calls DPW twice
So she contacted the Cudahy Department of Public Works and was told there had not been any sewer main breaks in the area and if the problem persisted, to call back.
Two days later, Woodall made a second phone call to the DPW. This time crews responded to her street and investigated a nearby manhole.
"As soon as they unclogged the sewer main, the water in my basement went down," she said.
Because of the incident, Woodall experienced about $5,000 in damages. Her basement had to be cleaned and sanitized twice, and she was stuck with bills from having two electricians come to her home to fix her furnace and water heater and for having the plumber come to her residence on two occasions.
A computer and various items had to be thrown away.
Because Woodall believes the city was at fault for the sewage leak, she filed a $5,000 claim, which was denied by a Common Council committee.
"I was told that my lateral was clogged, and that I should get an attorney," she said.
DPW Director and Engineering Department Director Mary Jo Lange said Woodall's claim was rejected "for several reasons."
"It's not necessarily the city's responsibility every time a lateral backs up" she said.
Lange said officials examine claims on a case-by-case basis with the help of Cities and Villages Mutual Insurance Co., the city's insurance carrier.
The city has an ongoing maintenance/televising program in place to prevent sewer mains from backing up. Because the city has a maintenance/televising program, officials are less accountable for backups in homes, she said.
City washes hands
When residents clean their laterals, sometimes debris is pushed into the city's sewer main, clogging it, Lange said. Once it was determined that the city's sewer main was backed up, staff responded immediately, she said.
As a result, the city is not liable for picking up Woodall's tab, she said.
"We can't monitor our sewers 24 hours a day," Lange said.
Rich Tadych, an agent for Farmers Insurance Group, said homeowner's insurance typically does not cover damages incurred from sewer backups unless the property owner pays extra for it, which could cost hundreds of dollars per year, depending on what is insured.
Woodall said her insurance did not cover expenses incurred by sewage flooding. She shares her basement with a tenant who also had items stored there.
She cannot afford to hire a lawyer, she said.
"I'm pretty much screwed," she said. "I wasted plenty of time and energy, and now I'm done."
Chantel Balzell can be reached at (262) 446-6602.
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