The Scene

Imagine that one day, you are relaxing in the comfort and sanctity of your home. Maybe you’re on the couch, taking it easy, watching some television or reading a good book. Or perhaps you’re in your bedroom, lying in the bed. All of a sudden you hear a gurgling, and then an explosion type of sound. You rise up to get out of bed and as you place your feet on the floor, you feel liquid. The floor is wet, maybe 2 or 3 inches of liquid, and it’s rising. Then the smell comes. Raw sewage has just invaded your homestead. Your castle is safe no more!

So you call the City and tell them what happened and they tell you to fill out a claim form and you’ll hear back in 90 days. Really? That’s the customer service we get for paying taxes? And then the 90-day period comes and goes and the City Council sends you a letter explaining they can only pay if they’re liable and according to their lawyers, they’re not liable and therefore they aren’t going to reimburse you for all your costs. How does that feel?!

Well, I’m here to tell you that such response is unacceptable and illegal. And if they won’t pay you then I’ll make them pay you!

Sewage back-ups are not an uncommon experience in Oklahoma. In the northwest side of Oklahoma City, in particular, sewage back-ups occur with a certain regularity. And the City knows this. They also know there’s a select few of us – Sewer Lawyers, as we’re called – that reject the unacceptable excuses the government gives for refusing to compensate our clients.

Sewer Lines 101

Sewage back-ups are primarily caused by a blockage in the main line. Your home has a sewer line that carries waste-water from your house into the City’s main line, which usually runs under the street in front of your house. The main line is owned and operated by the City. The lines under your home and in your yard are your lines. They are private and you are responsible for keeping them clean and clear. You are responsible for maintaining your own lines. But the City is responsible for maintaining the main lines that service private properties, like your home.

sewerlateralWhat causes sewer back-ups?

During the claims process, the City might tell you that back-ups are primarily caused by things people do, like grease in the drain and flushing oversized waste, like paper towels, and tampons. But a leading cause is actually root growth. Roots grow toward the pipes as a source of water, and cause blockages. This is known and understood by Oklahoma City. Their experts have admitted such in trial. Yet the City does not currently exercise regular maintenance to prevent such root growth. As a result, blockages from roots are popping up all over Oklahoma City.

The importance of hiring a Sewer Lawyer before you file your claim

When the City hands you that paper and says, “fill this out and return to the City,” you should call a sewer lawyer immediately. The reason is that an attorney who has experience with municipal sewer back-up claims can be sure to properly identify and itemize all available legal relief that the law allows. In other words, we will be sure to demand the maximum compensation allowed.  Failure to plead these items at the claims stage may prevent you from raising them later in the lawsuit.

Who decides whether the City pays your claim?

Here’s the deal: the City doesn’t have the final say. The jury does. So just because the City denies your claim during the 90-day pre-litigation claims process, doesn’t mean they will ultimately escape liability. But they won’t come right out and pay you. You need a trial lawyer who can take the city to battle and effectively try a 3-day to 2-week long jury trial.

Whether the City was reasonable and prudent in the maintenance of its sewer lines is a question of fact to be determined by the jury. See Spencer v. City of Bristow, 2007 OK CIV APP 67, 165 P.3d 361 (reversing a grant summary judgment because evidentiary materials demonstrated disputed questions of fact regarding whether the defendant city exercised reasonable care in the maintenance and operation of its sewer lines).

When is the City is liable for damage caused by a sewer back-up?

A municipal corporation that assumes control and management of its sewer system is bound to use reasonable diligence and care to safeguard the sewer from becoming clogged with refuse; and will be liable for negligence to a property owner injured by a clogged sewer after reasonable notice of the clogged condition. City of Holdenville v. Moore, 1956 OK 34, ¶8, 293 P.2d 363. Also see Oklahoma City v. Romano, 1967 OK 191, ¶ 10, 433 P.2d 924 (holding a city liable when it operates its sewer system in a way that constitutes a nuisance and fails to remedy it “after notice of the nuisance”).

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!