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Omaha denies homeowner’s sewer back-up claims

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 4:21 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Shock and financial heartbreak are what two neighbors are feeling more than a year after a devastating sewer back-up as the city tells the homeowners their damage claims are denied.

State law says for liability, local officials have to know about a problem beforehand and not fix it right away. But 6 News investigated why these claims don’t fit that legal description.

Stepping down into her finished basement last year, Nina Guerrero stepped in it.

“My house was a giant Porta Potty,” she said.

Sanitary sewer water blasted in from shower drain and toilet.

“And it just smelled horrible,” Guerrero said.

Her repairs, at a cost of $32,000, includeed new drywall and a new water-heater and furnace. But the City of Omaha denied her claim.

“Any way they can wiggle out,” she said. “I mean, I pay my taxes. I done everything I’m supposed to do, and I was really hoping they would come through.”

Next door, the Caniglias’ basement also flooded with sewage, and the city denied their $50,000 claim as well.

“The city is being really ridiculous. They’re not owning up to responsibility right now at all with this letter,” Michael Caniglia said.

A hydraulic flow problem to a manhole at the bottom of a street was to blame for all of it, but the city denies liability because the crews didn’t know about the clog until sewage flooded the basements.

Homeowners in the area say that after city crews worked in the manhole, the sewage receded, and the city sent out a private contractor to start cleanup, which some might say is an indication of fault. But there’s a catch — and the homeowners say it stinks.

A contract states cleanup paid by the city isn’t an admission of liability or fault.

“Just the pressure to sign something I don’t even have time to read. You’re standing in a foot of water down here — it’s like, what?”

An assistant city attorney said they want to help people clean up the mess right away, but don’t want to accept responsibility for repairs until investigating the incident, which can take up to six months.

“I know we’re both pretty fed up, and it’s safe to say it’s taken a toll on both of us,” Lori Caniglia said.

The city also claims the Caniglias home sewer line contributed to the damage to their house.

“That’s absolute phooey. It’s false,” Lori Caniglia said.

But proving that will cost legal fees, and the Caniglias said they can’t even afford to replace their sewage-wrecked water heater and washing machine.

“I have two hands and I’m still very blessed but it would be nice to get reimbursed by the city so we can get our lives back,” Lori Caniglia said.

In the last three years, a total of 88 claims have been filed for sewer back-up damage; the city has paid 38 of those claims with seven more pending investigation by the sewer division. The city attorney who handles the claims said those settled cases involve clear liability by the city, and that she knows of only one claim that’s being challenged in court by a property owner.

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