Couple Says Oregon City Should Pay For Sewer Mess

January 22, 2008

An Oregon City couple wants the city to pay them more than $400,000 because a sewer line backed up and flooded their basement with sewage, destroying everything from clothes to the family Bible.

The disaster occurred while the couple were visiting a dying relative in California last summer. Joseph and Loretta Roche say Oregon City caused the problem and should pay them for their losses. The city denied the claim.

Joseph Roche says the couple returned home to a basement 3 feet deep in untreated sewage, and it had been stewing through a summer heat wave.

“It permeated everything … with a caustic and toxic odor that I can only equate to the smell of death,” Roche said. “My house is destroyed.”

The problem was caused by a 19-inch length of four-by-four that got into the sewer system. It could have fallen into a manhole during a sewer expansion, or a vandal could have tossed it in. No one knows.

The lumber got stuck in a collector pipe that runs downhill past the house. Although the Roches’ homeowners insurance paid toward cleaning the basement, they believe the city is culpable.

Roche says the city or the contractor it hired to build a new sewer line should pay more than $405,000 to replace the house and contents.
The city and the contractor say they’re not responsible.

The city is not automatically liable when a sewer backs up, the city’s insurance agent told the Roches. “The city is only liable for those damages … caused by the city’s negligence.”

“At this point, the ball is in his court,” said City Manager Larry Patterson.

And Roche says that’s just where the city will find itself. He hired a lawyer and plans to sue the city and the contractor.

The city didn’t completely ignore the Roches. A public works crew pumped roughly 19,000 gallons of sewage from the house and cleared the blocked pipe.

That still left the Roches with a basement coated with nastiness. The couple hired a company to remove household items, gut the lower floor and sanitize the basement.

The Roches salvaged what they could, but much was lost, including keepsakes from their children’s lives.

“We had so many things we wanted to pass on to our kids and grandkids,” Loretta Roche said.

The Roches took pictures to chronicle the damage and their losses. One photo shows a small framed copy of the Ten Commandments. Joseph Roche said he’d like to add an 11th one: “Thou shalt not ruin somebody’s home.”

Information from: The Oregonian,

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