Property Damage from Sewage

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Can I Sue the County for Property Damage from Sewage Problems?

Most sewage systems are operated by local municipality agencies, though sometimes they may be contracted to an independent operator. If you have sustained property damage due to a faulty sewer system, you may be entitled to relief. Damages related to sewage issues can present many challenges with regards to safety and health hazards.

Many jurisdictions allow private citizens to bring file a claim against the county based on principles of eminent domain. According to this legal theory, the government may take or use private land for public purposes so long as they provide the owner with just compensation for the usage. 

Thus, for example if the county must use a person’s private property in order to construct or repair sewage lines, they are required to reimburse the person for their loss of use of the land. If the operations have resulted in damage to the property, then the person is entitled to recovery for damages. Damage can typically occur through sewage leaks, overflow and backups, ruptured pipes, and digging/excavation on one’s property.   

What Does “Just Compensation” Mean?

“Just compensation” means that the amount of monetary recovery must be reasonable. The amount claimed can only cover expenses associated with damaged property and lost usage. You may also be entitled to recover for illness incurred by sewer damage. Just compensation may also take the form of an injunction, which is a court decree instructing the defendant to take some sort of action.

Can I File a Complaint Based on Other Claims?

If the damage is severe enough, it may be possible to file a nuisance claim. A nuisance claim requires the person to prove that the sewage problem has created an unreasonable interference with a person’s health, safety, or enjoyment of personal property.

Property law makes a distinction between public and private nuisance claims. A private nuisance usually only affects the person filing the claim, while a public nuisance affects an entire group of people or the public in general. Obtaining relief for nuisance can be particularly difficult against the county or other government entities. Recovery for damages can sometimes be more successful if the sewage company is privately owned.

Alternatively, you may wish to inquire whether an encroachment claim is appropriate. This is the case where a physical object is protruding onto your own private land. With sewage systems, encroachment usually involves the intrusion of pipes, concrete abutments, or other structures onto land in a manner that disrupts the use of the land. The encroachment must actually interfere with the use or enjoyment of the property and cannot be merely aesthetic.

Encroachment is usually more appropriate when the offending party is a private citizen such as a neighbor. If the encroachment is due to the county’s actions, an eminent domain claim may be more appropriate.

Usually, in order to file any claim against the government, you will be required to file with an administrative agency first. Only after your claim has been denied can you file a lawsuit.  

What Should I Do Before Filing a Claim?

You may need to verify the damage to your property in a court of law. Make sure that the damage is well-documented through the use of photographs or video, receipts, and written accounts of the incident(s) involved.

Also, be sure to obtain the names and contact information of any witnesses involved. If you have suffered physical injury as a result of the sewage maintenance, you may wish to include medical reports and receipts as well.

Should I Contact a Lawyer for Sewage Damage?

Damage from sewage issues can be a severe threat to one’s personal safety and health. If you feel that you are involved in a dispute over sewer facilities or sewage lines, it is important to contact an attorney for advice. Laws governing the maintenance of sewage lines can vary by region, and a lawyer can help explain your options under the law. Be sure to obtain representation before the problem escalates any further.

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Last Modified: 02-05-2014 12:25 PM PST

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