City denies man’s claim for $350 bill after sewer line backs up into elderly mother’s basement

NEW CASTLE, Ind. – A New Castle man thought his city would foot the bill after a sewer line backed up into his elderly mother's basement, but instead he received a denial letter from the city's insurance company.

Roger Prince found out the hard way that it can be difficult to get a city to pay for property damage.

Prince's issues started when raw sewage backed up into his 89-year-old mother's basement in December. He called a plumber who tried to fix it, but quickly learned it wasn't a problem with the house.

"As soon as he (got) it out, it backed right back up in there. He said, 'It's coming out of that main line out there, it's got to be,'" Prince said.

Prince said the city ended up sending someone to flush out the sewer line a block away from the house. It fixed the back up, but left him with a $350 bill from the plumber and a big mess to clean up.

"I had to do it. I couldn't hire anybody, I didn't have any more money left," Prince said.

Prince filed a tort claim with the city of New Castle, but the insurance company denied it.

In a denial letter, the company admitted the blockage was on the city's side of the sewer line, but said the city had no responsibility to pay Prince or his mom back for the damage.

"The City had no prior knowledge of the blockage until you reported the issue," the letter said. "The City routinely cleans the sewer lines as part of preventative maintenance which shows there is no lack of negligence...we are unable to pay any portion of this claim."

"I mean, that's what the insurance is for, that's what gets me," Prince said.

CBS4 Problem Solvers tried twice to get a response from city officials via email. During a visit to city hall on Monday, a representative in the Mayor's Office said the city could not comment on Prince's case.

One problem here is that Prince had to file a tort claim, which is standard protocol if you think it is a government's fault that your property was damaged. It can be difficult to get money back from a tort claim, and Prince said it wouldn't be worth the extra money to try to sue the city in court, given his claim was only $350.

The insurance company did suggest that Prince might be able to recoup his money from homeowner's insurance.

So far, Prince is still out the money and said he doesn't understand why he can't get any help.

"It would've been nice to get that money back," Prince said.

To read Indiana's Tort Claim law for yourself, go to the link here. Many city or state agencies may have their own processes for filing a claim: in this case, Prince was able to file it by simply calling the New Castle Mayor's Office.

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