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updated: 5/9/2014 11:12 AM

Elgin resident wants $34,000 reimbursement

Woman wants payment for damaged basement, but city says it isn't liable

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  • Video: Sewer leak damages basement

  • Marie Lagenbach points to an area near her furnace and water heater where she says sewer water came up.

       Marie Lagenbach points to an area near her furnace and water heater where she says sewer water came up.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Marie Lagenbach shows the point on her wall that sustained damage from a sewer backup. She says the city should reimburse her for the $34,000 she spent fixing the damage. Elgin's insurance carrier, however, says the city isn't liable.

       Marie Lagenbach shows the point on her wall that sustained damage from a sewer backup. She says the city should reimburse her for the $34,000 she spent fixing the damage. Elgin's insurance carrier, however, says the city isn't liable.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Lagenbach's basement toilet was the source of the sewer water came up in January, she says.

       Lagenbach's basement toilet was the source of the sewer water came up in January, she says.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Marie Lagenbach looks over some of the pictures and bills that she has gathered.

       Marie Lagenbach looks over some of the pictures and bills that she has gathered.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Marie Lagenbach says the city of Elgin owes her more than $34,000 after her basement was damaged by a sewer backup.

       Marie Lagenbach says the city of Elgin owes her more than $34,000 after her basement was damaged by a sewer backup.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • This picture shows flooding that occurred near the water heater and furnace.

      This picture shows flooding that occurred near the water heater and furnace.
    PHOTO COURTESY of MARIE LAGENBACH

  • This floor was some of the damage Marie Lagenbach says was in her basement.

      This floor was some of the damage Marie Lagenbach says was in her basement.
    COURTESY of MARIE LAGENBACH

  • The incident report filled out by Elgin city workers states the blockage was caused by paper in the city's sewer system.

       The incident report filled out by Elgin city workers states the blockage was caused by paper in the city's sewer system.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

An Elgin resident might be stuck with a $34,000 bill after the city's insurance company refused to pay for damages caused by a backup in the city's sewer system.

Resident Marie Lagenbach said the sewer backed up Jan. 26 into the basement of her home, damaging the flooring, trim, wood doors, dry wall, two couches, a chair, luggage, and more.

City workers showed up the same day and unblocked the sewer through a manhole cover, she said.

Lagenbach filed a $34,119 reimbursement claim with the city in March. It included $12,475 to hire a general contractor, $6,700 for water extraction, $2,617 for flooring, $2,300 to replace furniture and $3,500 to refinish wood furniture.

Travelers Insurance, the city's insurer, sent a letter to Lagenbach last month denying her claim.

Her homeowners insurance, she says, does not cover damage from sewer backups, either.

The letter cites the state's Tort Immunity Act, which says public entities "shall not be liable" unless it's proven they had knowledge of an unsafe condition and did not take remedial action.

The city of Elgin has a maintenance program for its sewer lines, and did not have prior knowledge of the backup that damaged Lagenbach's home, the letter states.

Lagenbach said she called the city's legal department, who told her there's nothing the city can do.

"I said, 'How can you not be responsible? You're in charge of that sewer,'" Lagenbach said.

Daryl Richard, director of communications for Travelers Insurance, said the company can't comment on clients' claims.

Elgin Corporation Counsel William Cogley declined to comment, citing potential litigation.

Lagenbach said she doesn't have an attorney but might hire one in the future.

The incident report filled out by city workers states the blockage was caused by paper in the city's sewer system. It doesn't indicate what kind of paper.

"If it came from my house, I would pay because it's my damage," Lagenbach said. "But there's no way I would put paper down my toilets. I don't even use my garbage disposal for potato peels."

Lagenbach said she uses one-ply toilet paper, which she buys in bulk for herself and her son's home, which has a septic tank, because it breaks down more quickly.

Lagenbach said she did some remodeling last year, and increased her coverage.

She was not aware, though, it doesn't include sewer backups, she said.

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