Fence company drills through sewage pipe, refuses to pay

WSVN — He hired a company to install a fence. They did, but they also put a pole right through his sewage line. Then they said, “It’s not our fault, read the contract.” That’s when he called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

The Zimmermans bought a new house with a big yard … and since they have a big dog, what they needed next was obvious.

Barry Zimmerman: “We wanted to fence it in for the dog.”

Barry paid a company $2,370 to install the fence.

Barry Zimmerman: “We walked around. It seems pretty solid.”

That was on a Friday. On Saturday, the problem appeared.

Barry Zimmerman: “And she saw the water on the floor, and I go in our bathroom and there is water all over the floor. It backed out through the toilets.”

Their sewer line appeared to be clogged. After the Zimmermans cleaned up the mess, they called a plumber, who put a camera into the sewage line.

Barry Zimmerman: “I said, ‘Come here. I want to show you.’ And he had the camera in there, and I could see the silver post reflecting off his camera.”

The fence company had put a post right through their sewer line. And not just any sewage line.

Patrick Fraser: “Good Lord. Feel that thing. That’s a heavy piece of pipe.”

It was a cast iron sewer line.

Barry Zimmerman: “You should have known it was there. You should have known you hit it. I am an electrician. I do this for a living. I’m in the dirt all the time. I know when I hit stuff.”

The fence company said they dug the hole with a shovel and told Barry they didn’t know they hit a cast iron pipe.

Barry Zimmerman: “I was a little upset, being in the trade. I know what it takes to go through sometimes.”

A plumber on a Saturday is not cheap. He charged Barry $1,000 to repair the sewer line. Barry then called the fence company.

Barry Zimmerman: “They said they were not responsible for broken pipes.”

The fence company had called Sunshine 811 as required by law to make sure they were not digging through public utilities. There were none. It was Barry’s private pipe. Their contract says telephone cable wires, gas pipes, water pipes, if damaged, are the owner’s responsibility. Barry said, “This is a sewage pipe, so let’s compromise.”

Barry Zimmerman: “[I] said, ‘Lets go half with us, which is fair.’ ‘No.’

Patrick Fraser: “So you were willing?”

Barry Zimmerman: “I was willing to meet them halfway.”

The fencing company broke the sewer line. They don’t want to pay for it. Howard, do they have to?

Howard Finkelstein: “In my opinion, yes, they do. Since the pipe was not covered by the state’s 811 system, the fence company has to use reasonable care during installation. And since they put a pole right through a cast iron pipe, the law will presume they are negligent unless they can prove otherwise.”

I spoke to the owner of the fencing company, who told me she was not responsible since they have that clause in their contract.

When I told her Howard disagreed, she spoke to her attorney.

The fence company then offered the Zimmermans $200 or told them to wait until they submitted their claim to the fence company’s insurance. The Zimmermans turned down the $200 and will wait for the results of the fence company’s insurance claim.

Howard Finkelstein: “To protect yourself when you sign a contract, pay close attention. If they tell you they are not responsible for any damage they cause, get them to remove that clause. If they won’t, don’t sign the contract.”

While he waits for the decision from the fence company’s insurance, Barry will turn to his next project at their new home.

Barry Zimmerman: “The yard. Get the yard in shape, and that’s it.”

Patrick Fraser: “We will keep an eye on it and let you know how it turns out. Remember, a contract is written usually by the company doing the work for you. It’s written to benefit them, so make sure you read it carefully. And if you want changes, odds are they will make them ’cause they need your money.”

A stinking problem got you fenced in? Need to unlock the gate for some help? Contact us. We can’t dig you out of every mess, but hopefully things will start flowing along for you.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
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On Twitter: @helpmehoward7

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