Property Damage from Sewage Backup: Legal Options, Advice and More
Having sewage backing up into your basement and on your property is the type of disaster that no homeowner or business owner ever wants to face. Unfortunately, these types of things can and often do happen. When such a problem strikes, knowing what to do next can be overwhelming. In addition to having a disgusting mess on your hands and potentially dealing with the loss of material possessions, your property could experience substantial — and costly — damage.
If you have property damage as the result of a sewage backup, a fast response is vital. The quicker you act, the more you will be able to mitigate the damage and get things back to normal. A quick response is also crucial when it comes to determining who is liable for the incident and recovering your losses. Since sewer systems are owned and operated by municipalities, you may be entitled to compensation from your county, city, township or other local municipality.
Let’s take a closer look at your legal rights and what you need to do when you have property damage resulting from sewage backup.
Know Your Coverage
Renters insurance water backup coverage is available in every state, and it’s something that everyone should have. It is an endorsement on your renters insurance policy, and in some cases, coverage may even be free.
When you are dealing with something as potentially hazardous and devastating as a sewage backup, you need immediate solutions. Even if you are legally entitled to compensation, you need to act quickly to remedy the situation. For most people, this means filing a claim with your insurance company.
It is a good idea to check your policy before disaster strikes, however, to determine whether you are covered. Many insurance policies have “water exclusions” that apply to sewage backup. In other words, even if you have good homeowner’s or commercial property insurance, it is likely that damages occurring as the result of a sewer backup are not covered. If you do not want to get stuck holding the bill, you need to know your legal rights.
Relief and Compensation
In most areas, sewage systems are owned and operated by the local municipality. They may also, however, be contracted to an independent operator. If you sustain serious property damage as the result of a damaged or faulty sewer system, you may be entitled to relief and other financial compensation.
Based on the principles of eminent domain, you may be permitted to file a claim against the municipality when a sewage backup causes damage to your property through no fault of your own. Because the sewage system runs through your private property, you are entitled to compensation if a problem with the system results in damage to your property. Sewage backups, leaks, overflows, ruptured pipes and even excavation on your property may make you eligible for compensation.
It is important to note, though, that you are only eligible to receive “just compensation” — a reasonable amount of monetary compensation. You can only claim the amount necessary to cover expenses associated with lost usage and repairing your damaged property. If you become ill as the result of exposure to raw sewage, you may also be able to recover damages to cover the cost of your medical treatment.
What About Incidents Causing Severe Damage?
If a sewage backup results in severe damage to your property, you may be able to file a nuisance claim. When you file this type of claim, however, you must be able to provide sufficient proof that the sewage issue caused an unreasonable interference with your safety, health or ability to use and enjoy your property.
There are two options when filing a nuisance claim. If you are the only person affected, you should file a private nuisance claim. If multiple people are involved or the situation impacted the general public, you should file a public nuisance claim. In either case, receiving compensation from your county or another government entity for a nuisance claim can be extremely difficult. In these situations, working with experienced attorneys is a must.
Filing a Nuisance Claim
Before filing a nuisance claim, make sure the damage is well documented. You will need to prove the damage in a court of law, so the more evidence you have, the better. Record videos and take pictures of the damage. Save receipts for anything you had to purchase to rectify the problem and write down your personal account of the incident. You may also want to get written accounts from members of your family, employees, customers and anyone else who was impacted by the problem. Obtain names, phone numbers, and addresses for any witnesses. If your health has been impacted, get copies of medical reports and bills.
Once you have all this information, look for attorneys specializing in sewage backup claims. Lawyers with knowledge of stormwater lawsuits can help, too. Because receiving compensation for nuisance claims can be extremely difficult, representing yourself in this type of case is not advised. The laws governing the maintenance and repair of sewer systems vary by region, and an experienced attorney can help you better understand your rights and get you the relief you need.
Whether caused by poorly maintained sewer lines, stormwater runoff, or any other type of problem, sewage backup poses a serious threat to your health and safety. It also causes significant damage to homes and commercial properties. Because most insurance policies do not cover this type of damage without an endorsement, understanding your legal rights is extremely important when it comes to receiving compensation for this type of incident and its consequences.
When disaster strikes, be sure to carefully document the damage and keep track of any expenses you incur. Talk to an experienced attorney to find out more about the laws in your area and your rights as a property owner. There are often short limits to the amount of time you have to file a claim, so consult with an attorney as quickly as possible. If you do not file a notice of claim within six months or one year of the harmful sewage backup or stormwater flooding incident, you will be legally barred from filing a subsequent lawsuit against the offending municipality, county or state government.
If you would like to add a water backup endorsement to your policy, or if you have questions about how the endorsement works, just call (800)892-4308 or click to get covered - whether you need renters insurance quotes online or coverage anywhere else!
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About Kopelman Sitton
Richard Kopelman and Clint W. Sitton co-founded Kopelman Sitton Law Group with the singular goal of providing personalized, quality representation to those who unfortunately suffered catastrophic injuries and death, or the destruction or loss of property as the result of negligence or misconduct of others. Visit their website online at kopelmansitton.com today.