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For the First Time in 32-Years, There Will Be No Thanksgiving Dinner at Our Family's Home

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Three Homes That Border Problem O'Fallon Sewer Line
Reportedly Back up Twice Annually for Last Five Years!

After hanging the above sign in front of our home, we have received dozens of phone calls and e-mails of information and support. We've only received two negative postings - both of which can be found in the 'Consumer Beware' Section of this newspaper...and both had political undertones. 

The following e-mail was received by a homeowner located directly bordering the problem O'Fallon sewer line:

  "I would say twice a year, the sewer backs up, and has for the last five years.  Neighbor Bill, has told Jan, he too has flooding problems with the main sewer line.  The folks that live next to Bill had the same story, however they have moved out.  I do not know the new folks in that house now.  I know Keith, and Mary next to me have had flooding problems. I do know we all have the same problem. 
    The sewer company is quick to temporarily fix the problem.  I believe this because, when it happens I see their trucks on the street and guess what, the problem magically disappears after they leave.   The report is, they did not fix anything, they were just checking the system.  This has always been the story.  Same thing every time, there is no problem on their end, and I should call a plumber to look at my problem. The battle to recover any loss has been countless.    
    Under new panel boards I have, moldy wood, "2x4 frames" that are hidden.  I have had to replace the hot water tank, the water softener,  the tiles on the floor, the washer, and dryer some of these are ready to be changed again."  ~ name withheld ~


RECAP: During the late night hours of October 30, 2009, rainwater met a clog in the City of O’Fallon’s sewer main line that runs along Brookfield Lane and 4” of backed-up stormwater flooded our finished basement. All contents in the finished basement were saturated and destroyed including the hot water heater, clothes dryer, refrigerator, two business computers, additional peripheral electronic pieces, a televisin,  dozens of family heirlooms, photos, childrens’ toys, etc. The carpeting and drywall were also destroyed. The losses are tallied at somewhere between $13,000 -$14,000.
  There is no doubt of the causative factor. The City of O'Fallon pump truck was called out and removed tree roots from the sewer line located over 40 yards away from our property line. Approximately two – three years prior to this incident, the same scenario happened in the same place causing a sewer back-up in our basement. We caught that incident as it occurred during daytime hours and Alliance Water Resources was able to correct the problem quickly, limiting the amount of damage to a few hundred dollars. The claims were paid within a couple days.  This time, we immediately filed a claim through the City of O’Fallon. However, the city’s insurance company, Travelers Insurance denied the claim stating:


  Their insurance agent, a very smug Margaret Loyd, advised us to file a claim with our homeowner’s insurance company. We filed the claim with claims adjuster Susan Wade of MetLife Insurance, our homeowner’s insurance company. Before the explanation of the event was even finished the agent announced the company’s position that they would not cover the claim. The first reason given was

 “If it didn’t happen on your property, we don’t cover it.”
When we didn't meekly accept that answer, she blurted out
“You don’t have sewer back-up insurance”

(There is a reason why insurance claims adjusters are not the 'faces' for the insurance company at the point of sale. Whew! That's another story!)

  In a last ditch effort to settle the situation amicably, we sent certified letters to all the elected city officials, interim city administrator and Mayor as formal notification of the incident, requesting the payment of our damages and a copy of the city’s insurance policy. What we received was a document approximately 1” thick that describes all the liability coverage for the entire city operations, with no notation of any kind to direct us to the language in the policy that pertains to sewer back-up incidents. The city clerk called to inform me that she could not locate any records of the prior incident, citing that the documentation left the city with Alliance Water Resources Management. How can their insurance company render a decision based on actual facts without this documentation?

  The city clerk was very understanding, accomodating and offered to speak with the Mayor further on the subject. The next day I received an e-mail informing me that

The Mayor and Councilmen have decided to follow the recommendations of Travelers Insurance Company.

  We sent the same request via certified mail to our homeowners insurance company and additionally requested any documents signed by us indicating that a separate insurance rider was needed for sewer back-up coverage. To date, Metlife can not find any such documents and state that the original insurance agent we were assigned to is no longer employed by MetLife and his office is closed.  We purchased our policy in 2003 by phone and have never been contacted by any agent or received any policy – only a declarations page annually. And, like the separate rider for sewer back-up coverage, we had no knowledge of the difference.  We still await any documentation with our signature.

  So here we sit…three weeks later. We spend every waking, non-working hour sorting through our losses, trying to eliminate the stench of must from the drywall in the basement and calculating ways we can replace the most essential losses during tough economic times. 
   We also hung a professional printed sign on our front porch, explaining the situation to all neighbors and traffic that drive by and see the damages laying out in our driveway. Slowly the damages are removed via our trash service. We weren’t even provided a dumpster by any responsible party.
  The signage has provided a valuable tool in communicating with others that have experienced the same situation. We have received dozens of calls, e-mails and prayers of support. Each and every one reinforces my belief that there is a reason this has happened to us...especially when one considers the tens of thousands of homes and businesses serviced by O'Fallon Sewer System.

We have received other victim reports:
•    Four homeowners located in another area have experienced costly lateral sewer damage after the city truck came out and serviced the main in in front of their homes.
•    Two other homeowners on the block of Wildwinds also experienced sewer back up at the same time our incident took place. Their basement are unfinished and losses minimal, however have no means to dispose of the damages they did incur.
•    AND, a daycare center located in the downtown area of O’Fallon that also experienced the same sewer mishap on October 30th in the basement of their facility where thousands of dollars in toys were stored. They also contacted the city to file a claim and received the same callous attitude of the Travelers Insurance claim agent, Margaret Loyd,  that we received. This time her denial was classified, “An Act of God”. 

  The daycare center is now in need of donations of new or gently-used toys for their children to play and learn with.  (If you would like to help with this, please e-mail us for further details). The daycare center owner was able to make contact with us because a passerby read the sign outside our home and relayed the information to her. We hope this continues and that anyone who experienced such losses contacts us.

  The most disappointing aspect of all presents itself in the deliberate misinformation that came from city staff in phone discussions about this incident. Two high-level city management staff members specifically told me that there were no other reports filed. This was a lie.  The daycare owner notified the city and their insurance company too. Also, the public was deceptively led to believe that all sewer records were transferred into the city possession when they took over the maintenance program from Alliance Water Resources. This is not true. In fact, the city and their insurance company are operating off the cuff and denying claims at whim. Something, that if not stopped now, will continue with any such incident in the future.

  Again, we are sharing all this information with ALL READERS, both near and far, in hopes that EVERYONE check their homeowners insurance policies to assure they are covered by sewer back up insurance and the amount of the coverage is accurate for their needs. We have since found out the cost of the rider is an approximate $50 per year and some insurance companies do not even charge extra for the coverage. We have heard from many people who have read the sign, this story and checked their homeowners policy coverage only to find they also did not have coverage for this type of disaster.   

  This can happen to anyone…anywhere! We do not want any other innocent victims to fall prey to the games or politics insurance companies and municipal governments play. It’s our small effort to stop the bilking of Americans by unscrupulous insurance companies. Please tell everyone you know and care about to read this story and protect themselves too.
  We will keep you posted on future developments...

  In the meantime, for the first time in 32 years, our family will not  be able to gather in our home for Thanksgiving Dinner. We are working as quickly as we can to correct the damages, but it is taking time and resources not readily available. The process moves forward - one step at a time, just not as quickly as it could have if any of the responsible parties had done the 'right thing'.

  This is heart-breaking for our family., especially after the loss of close family members and friends in the last few years. The holidays mean more to us than ever now.  Though our children and grandchildren limit their comments to ease the sadness, its not something we all will ever forget. As I responded to the city clerk in a recent missive, I repeat:
“I really do appreciate your response and attempt to better explain the situation to the elected officials. As I said yesterday, the results don’t surprise me. I sure hope that the insurance company can help the officials better explain to the public why they chose to ‘run the bill up’ in the resolution of this injustice. I haven’t talked with anyone who understands this mentality yet. 
 I don’t think the insurance company will be able to ease any of the bad feelings that will continue to develop from the fact that my family will not be able to celebrate Thanksgiving in our home for the first time in 32 years because the City of O’Fallon main sewer line clogged and backed up into our family’s home…and our elected officials refuse to accept the responsibility and do the right thing. You know…for the first time in this hellacious two weeks of trying to get this situation under control, I am glad I am me, and not one of them. I wouldn’t want this on my conscience. I view the stance as pure evil and vindictive.
  I will do what I have to do to get justice for my family and to be made whole again. I will continue to do everything I can to inform the public of what has happened and the lack of response or concern received from the elected officials. No one should ever have to go through this. Maybe that’s the reason it’s happened to us."


  Finally...on a business note:

  The City of O'Fallon has a $25,000 deductable on their liability insurance. At this point, our damages are well below that figure. When we begin to factor in upcoming legal will end up costing the city the full $25,000 in deductable. Why Travelers Insurance is even involved confuses me...and runs up the insurance coverage bill for the city. If others choose to pursue justice, there will be multiples in payouts from the city.

  And, we received an e-mail of response from Gary Johnson of Alliance Water Resources who states he personally remembers the first back-up but needed the date of the incident to produce a copy of the check paid for damages. I've been sent back to City Hall...once again the city clerk placed focus on finding the past records. She accomplished the goal, and emailed everything - including a copy of the November 2006 report that clearly indicates the same type back-up in the same main sewer line in 1996 AND a copy of the check issued to us for damages from the back-up. Later that evening, Margaret Loyd called from Travelers Insurance. When I questioned whether she had this information in her possession, she responded that she did but they still deny the claim. Are you ready for the most recent reasoning? 

The record also shows that we had a root blockage in our lateral one year later from a tree on our property.

  We paid for the removal of the roots ourselves - as we do almost annually as a regular practice and there was no damage to our home.  What does THAT have to do with a blockage that occurs 40 yards away from our property? Here's another warning folks! Though the City of O'Fallon wants customers to call them first in the case of any blockage - DO NOT DO IT! If the blockage is in your lateral, you will pay for it regardless. If you call them first, the insurance company has shown they will try to use the record of incident to deny ANY claims for damages caused by city sewer lines in the future. Talk about sneaky, slimy and questionable?

  As of November 21, 2009, we still await a formal letter of denial of coverage from the City of O'Fallon Mayor and Councilmen AND Travelers Insurance.  We also are waiting for our original signed copy/documentation of our Metlife Homeowners policy indicating we were ever told we did not have sewer back-up insurance.

(For a more thorough coverage of the story,see the articles archived
in the 'Consumer Beware' section of this newspaper.)