LINDSAY — Christmas gifts were ruined and their children’s keepsakes lost, replaced by tens of thousands of dollars in clean-up and restoration bills.
Four Lindsay families dealt with sewage in their homes Dec. 17, 2020, after they said a construction company struck an unmarked water line, causing the sewage to back up into their homes. They — at least for now — are stuck with massive bills.
The village insurance company and the insurance company for Obrist Construction have denied the claims, leaving the homeowners to pay for damages they did not cause. Obrist is the company the families identified as hitting the unmarked line.
They addressed the Lindsay Village Board of Trustees on Feb. 17 during a special meeting.
Kyle Lindhorst, Dylan Veik, Nick and Laura Wiese and Kyle and Alexandria Wegener attended the meeting. They all live in the Albracht First Addition, and work was being done by Obrist Construction on Plum Street.
Lindhorst said around 9 a.m. he heard a gurgle and rushed downstairs to his basement and saw “solid, brown water coming out of the floor drain, toilet and bathtub.”
Lindhorst said he went outside and saw Obrist’s machinery, along with Lindsay’s head of maintenance, Steve Johnson, and village clerk/treasurer John Haynes.
Lindhorst said he told them his basement was flooded, saying that Haynes replied, ‘Yes, the water is turned off.’ ”
Lindhorst said Haynes and Johnson came to their house to see the damage, and Haynes took photos and told him to call ServiceMaster to clean up the basement.
“He said, ‘It’s our fault, we’ll pay to clean it up.’ That’s what he said,” Lindhorst said.
Lindhorst said he and his wife were almost finished renovating the basement, and everything in it was less than 1 year old.
“Everyone kept saying how the sewer was 90% clean water because it came from fresh water. We have human hair dangling off our toilet seat. It’s kind of disturbing; my hands were in it,” he said.
Lindhorst said they had to gut the basement, including the carpet, drywall and baseboard, and furnishings were damaged.
So far, his expenses have reached about $29,682 and could continue to climb.
The Wegeners have a cleaning bill of $13,000 and a repair bill of $33,000.
“The personal belongings we haven’t added up yet, but I would estimate $10,000 to $15,000,” Kyle Wegener said. “In the personal belongings, there were a lot of baby stuff, clothing, desks and other furniture, two vanities and a lot of other odds and ends, and we expect more.”
The Wieses have about $20,000 in expenses so far, and that total also could grow.
They lost or have damage to their children’s toys, couch, furniture, bed dressers, and items that were in storage rooms.
Veik has about $15,000 to $20,000 in damage so far.
He and his girlfriend, Rena, lost materials for a bedroom he was building in the basement, along with damage to walls, flooring and a bathroom.
Lindhorst said he understands the water line was not marked but believes it is the village’s responsibility to know where the water lines are and to make sure they are marked.
The water line does not appear on a village map because there is no record it exists.
Haynes said the maps were produced in 2013; however, they were made from scraps of papers decades old. A former maintenance worker and plumber had reviewed the maps for accuracy.
“It happened right before Christmas, and all four of us (families) have children,” Lindhorst said.
Alexandria Wegener asked why they were liable for the cleanup costs when it was not their fault.
Fred Hoefer, board chairman, said the insurance companies also said they are not liable for the cost.
“It was something unknown,” he said.
Hoefer and board member Gene Werner both said they have had water in their homes more than once in the past and had to incur the costs.
When asked by Lindhorst if those instances were the result of human error, only Werner said yes, citing an incident when someone dropped a two-by-four into a manhole and it blocked the water main, causing water to back up into his home.
Lindhorst and Alexandria Wegener said they were disappointed that board members had not apologized for the incident.
Alexandria Wegener said, “I’m from Lincoln, but I thought, you know what, a small town, they’ll take care of us. We all have small kids. We’re all trapped in our upstairs now. I feel like I’m living in an apartment. All of my baby stuff was ruined.”
“It’s a tough one,” Hoefer said. “It’s tough for you guys, but it’s tough for us because if we do something, that will set a precedent for something else.”
Veik asked the board if this happened to one of them, would they pay for cleanup?
“That’s what you have insurance for,” Werner said. “I know insurance doesn’t cover everything. You have backup insurance that covers 100% — that I know, I found out.”
Lindhorst said later he checked with his insurance agent and was told there is always a limit to sewer backup insurance. The only time insurance covers 100% of the damages is when the total damages are under the homeowner’s limit.
“My insurance agent made it sound like the majority of people only have $5,000 to $10,000 worth of coverage, if they choose to have that coverage, because most of the time when a sewer backs up, it’s not this extreme of damage unless it’s caused by human error like this instance or a natural disaster,” he said.
Veik said insurance premiums would rise, which is another cost for the property owner.
Board members, as advised by their insurance company and village attorney, said it was a matter for the insurance companies of the village and Obrist Construction to work out.
Lindhorst said the insurance claims have been rejected. Lindhorst said he spoke with Mark Weidner, the insurance agent for the village, and was told the insurance provider would not change its mind and pay the claim.
“I have more than $45,000 in expenses. Who the (heck) is going to pay for that? I don’t have that kind of money lying around. It’s been two months and nothing. Nobody from the city apologized. I don’t expect Obrist to apologize. Nobody even said I’m sorry for flooding your basement, I’m sorry for ruining your Christmas,” Alexandria Wegener said.
“We all feel bad that this happened in the community,” board member Amy Wiese said, and Haynes added that he was sincerely sorry.