Nothing can ruin your day quite like failing government infrastructure, especially when we are talking about something like your city’s sewer system. Anyone who has ever suffered a sewage back-up knows what I am talking about.
You are at peace inside your home, when you hear a gurgling sound coming from the bathroom. All of a sudden, black sludge starts coming out of the bath tub drain, and from around where your toilet meets the floor. That wax ring that seals the connection between your toilet and the floor drain is no match for the pressure coming from down below.
Sewage back-ups, or sanitary system over-flows (how’s that for legal jargon?) can be total nightmares for families and homeowners in Oklahoma. Commercial businesses and professional Landlords can also suffer at the hands of a poorly maintained municipal sewer system.
This article will go over some of the basics of what you can do when you home or property floods from a sewer-system malfunction in Oklahoma. We will also explain how we can help you, as we are lawyers with years of experience in handling sewer back up cases in Oklahoma Courts.
What exactly is a Sewer Back-Up and how does it happen in Oklahoma?
A sewage back-up occurs when the sewage down in the sewer pipeline reverses its course and flows back up into your house. As you know, water flows downhill. However, in the scenario I’m describing, the sewage water flows uphill and into your home. How does that happen? First, let’s examine how the system works.
How Waste-Water exits your home and into a Sewer-System in Oklahoma
In a municipal sewer system, you have a “sewer system” that runs through your neighborhood or down your street. A sewer is usually nothing other than an 8-inch plastic PVC pipe that is buried deep in the ground, usually 12 or 15 feet down. In Oklahoma City, these sewer pipes are usually ran in the alley ways behind houses, as opposed to in the front of the house along the street. (But that’s not to say there isn’t a sewer running along your street).
Your house uses gravity to remove wastewater. When you turn on your sink, the water flows out of your faucet and down the sink into a drain. That drain will have a pipe that connects into the main drain for your house. Every sink, shower and toilet in your house will have a drain that all connects into your main drain. That main house drain will connect into a private sewer line underneath your house. So far, gravity is taking it from your bathroom into a drain that runs underneath your home.
That private sewer line that you own then runs from underneath your house and continues underground through your yard, the entire time in a downward slope until it ties into the city’s main line, running through the alley.
This photo below demonstrates the path of the waste water traveling from your sinks, toilets, and tubs down through your house drain into you private sewer line, and then finally into the city’s sewer line.
What causes a Sewer line to Back-Up into a private line, house or property?
As we explained above, a sewage back-up is when the sludge reverses course, and flows backwards, against gravity, up the pipes, and into your home.
Water is literally flowing uphill, against gravity, contrary to the laws of physics. What could cause this phenomenon? One word: PRESSURE.
In order for this to happen, the pressure must be so strong that it just pushes it up and back from where it came from. Where does this pressure come from?
Well, there are multiple possibilities. Let’s start with a simple blockage.
The City Sewer line is flowing in a steady downward path, constantly receiving incoming sewage from lateral private lines joining into the main line. If an object is lodged in the city’s main sewer line, preventing the constant, onward flow of the liquid downstream, then all of that incoming, fresh new sewage, will just build up. The blockage won’t let it pass, so the pressure builds up. After enough time, or volume of water, that pressure will start to push the waste water back upstream. Where does it go? Into the path of least resistance, which is usually a near-by lateral line coming from a home or private property.
The built up pressure will force the oncoming sludge into another direction, up a private lateral line, and it will just keep going until the pressure is released. So it will eventually explode out of the bath tub or toilet in your house that is closest to the home’s sewer line.
Determining the Extent of the Damage resulting from a Sewer Back-up
Not all back-ups are equal. Sometimes, a small amount of water may emit from the wax seal around your toilet. This is more common when there is a blockage somewhere in your private line. In this scenario, there may not be very much damage, just some nasty water to clean up. Maybe the entire bathroom flooded with nasty waste water, but if contained just this space, it may not be a huge problem (Oh, I’m sure it’s disgusting, but there may not be a long term consequences).
Then there are cases where literally the waste water explodes from inside the toilet or bath tub, shooting up in the air. These types of back-ups can obviously cause much more damage.
Damage from a sewer back-up can include:
- Damage to flooring, fixtures, vanities
- Damage to sheet rock, floor trim
- Structural damage to interior walls or decking underneath flooring, if water gets under there
- Health and safety concerns from infection of the waste-water penetrating the walls, floor, and ventilation system
- Mechanical damage if the wastewater gets into floor vents, and into the HVAC system
- Annoyance, inconvenience, and distress that any reasonable person would expect from having to deal with this chaos
Anyone who has dealt with one knows that sewer back-ups can be costly. The amount of damage caused can vary from a few hundred dollars in replacing a rug or a small square of carpet to tens of thousands in home remodel expenses.
It is best to contact a remediation company to fully appraise the damage and determine the best way to clean up and rehabilitate the mess.
Determining who is at fault for the Sewage back-up
The next step is figuring out why this happened and how it happened. Then you can decide if it was a result of your own failing equipment in your house or if failing government infrastructure.
Take for instance the situation where the sludge explodes out of the toilet or batch tub and shoots up into the air, hitting surrounding walls, ceiling, etc. This would be be clear evidence of a large amount of pressure, which would imply that the problem stems from the public sewer line and not from the homeowner’s private line.
We once had a case where 500 gallons of sewage flooded our client’s home. It would not be possible that this came from a blockage within the home’s plumbing, as the problem would have presented itself much sooner than the time it would take to accrue 500 gallons in the home’s plumbing.
However, in a city main line collecting waste water from many surrounding homes in a neighborhood, it is very much possible that a blockage in the main line can cause enough pressure to push everything backwards, and the volume of matter collected from all the other lateral lines can easily amount to hundreds and hundreds of gallons, enough to completely destroy a home.
But there may be instances where more investigation is needed to prove the government’s liability for the damage. This could include camera inspections fo the line and other forensic investigations into the mechanics of this failing infrastructure.
Bringing a Claim for Compensation against the Government Entity Responsible for the Sewer Back-up
As we’ve blogged about before, there are special steps you must take to bring a claim against a a government entity in Oklahoma. This process is called filing a Notice of Tort Claim.
It is very important that you follow all technical requirements when submitting a claim to your City or County. In fact, we recommend that you actually consult with a lawyer before filing your Notice of Tort Claim. Why?
Because you want to be sure that you can pursue the maximum amount of compensation available under the law and you do not wantn to limit your damages. For example, if you file a claim with your city, and the the City denies your claim, your last resort is to hire a lawyer to file a lawsuit. But your lawyer will be limited based on what language you used in your Notice of Tort Claim.
City workers are quick to hand out sample forms, but we never use the City’s sample form. We always write a letter, customized to each unique situation.
We know that the claims process is often futile and that most municipalities rarely settle pre-suit; at least they never settle for enough to pay the citizen what they actually deserve. Therefore, we treat every case right from the start as if we will have to file suit and go to trial.
What to do now?
If you are suffering the damage of a sewer back-up right now, call Travis Charles Smith, Oklahoma City’s premier sewer lawyer. We have the experts, the money, and the experience to litigate your claims and obtain compensation for your loss, with no up-font expenses to you. Our sewer back-up lawsuits are always on a contingency basis: We charge the client nothing unless we win and we finance all the litigation expenses!