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City Insurance Company Rejects Claims from Storm, Sewer Backup

September 03, 2014 2:00 am

TWIN FALLS, IDAHO • The city of Twin Falls’ insurance company has said it won’t pay the people seeking reimbursement for the damage created when city sewers backed up into their homes during Aug. 6’s heavy rains.

The Idaho Counties Risk Management Program sent identical letters a couple of weeks ago to the 11 residents and property owners who had filed tort claims, saying the rain and not any negligence by the city was to blame.

“The City drainage systems and sewer lines simply could not maintain or drain the amount of water that fell in such a short time,” the letters read. “This incident would be considered an act of nature.”

The city saw about 4 inches of rain that day, in what the National Weather Service called a 100-year storm. The people whose homes were damaged by the sewer backups weren’t covered by homeowners’ insurance, because the backup came from the city’s line, not from a break in the homeowners’ lines.

Mark Mills, who lives on Sigrid Avenue, said his home sustained $3,000 to $5,000 in damage when the water got into his basement through a shower and another floor drain by his dryer. He reacted quickly, getting pumps and then plugging the drains, but it happened so quickly, the damage was already done.

Mills said he has talked to a couple of attorneys about his options no but hasn’t heard anything yet. He said the city should reimburse him. Mills said he runs a tree service, and if he were to damage someone’s property, he would have to pay for it.

“It’s their sewer,” he said. “For whatever reason, it backflowed into my house. It shouldn’t be my fault.”

Elaine Bowman, who owns a duplex on Poplar Avenue that flooded, said she likely has about $18,000 worth of damage,with all the furnaces in the building destroyed.

She, too, is looking at her options, including possibly getting reimbursed by the Twin Falls Canal Co.’s insurance.

“It wasn’t an act of God,” she said. “It was the fact that their (the city’s) sewer failed.”

Maria Egbert, who lives in Idaho Falls, was renting out her mother’s house on Poplar Avenue. Her mother lives in a care center now, and the income was supposed to help defray the cost of her care.

During the flooding, sewage spewed out of a toilet in the basement, reaching four feet high on the drywall. After the flooding, she had to pay to have the walls torn down to their wooden frames, and spray the basement to get rid of the mold. Her tenant’s furniture was also ruined. Her insurance company said it wouldn’t pay because the damage came from the city line, not from something within the home.

“The money that was supposed to help pay for my mother’s care … is going toward putting the basement back together,” she said. “I don’t have (any) other options.”

City officials told the Times-News last month that the city’s drain systems aren’t designed for storms as rare and severe as the one a month ago, but that the city would reexamine how it handles such emergencies.

Mayor Don Hall said Tuesday night that he feels empathy for the people who sustained losses, but that it’s ICRMP’s job to examine and handle claims.