If an LA water main floods your house or car, you could be left paying for damages

Aging city water pipes burst open 2-3 times a day, often causing thousands of dollars in damage

Almost every room of Suzan’s Richman’s San Fernando Valley house is damaged by mud and water. The wood floors are buckling and the walls are stained with what appears to be mold.

“Mold is growing everywhere. You can smell the mold; it’s nauseating,” Richman told the NBC4 I-Team. “I won’t go inside the house without a mask.”

It was 1:30 in the afternoon last Jan. 22 when an aging LADWP water main burst open outside Richman’s house, sending a river of muddy water gushing into her yard and home.

Since that day, Richman says she’s been battling with the DWP to get compensation for the damage to her now-uninhabitable house of 27 years, which she says is more than $1 million.

“This is not the home that I maintained. It’s not the home that I lived in. It is a shell of what I had,” Richman said, holding back tears. “It’s all ruined.”

The DWP told NBC4 that its water pipes break open two to three times a day somewhere in LA. The flooding sometimes damages homes, cars and personal property.

“I’ve been through roughly five water main breaks since I moved in here in 2020,” said Renita Sweed, who has lost two cars to flooding from a Hollywood water main.

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“It’s cost me personally thousands of dollars,” even though the flooding was DWP’s fault, Sweed told the I-Team.

DWP has graded its water pipes “A” through “F,” with F being considered highest priority for replacement.

The 75-year-old water main in front of Suzan Richman’s house was only a grade “C” pipe, meaning it was not high on the list for replacement when it burst in January.

Richman said the night of the flood, a person from DWP’s claims department showed up to survey the damage to her home.

“She came out and handed me a claim form and said, ‘This is horrific and I would go through your insurance because it takes forever with the DWP,'” Richman recalled to NBC4.

But she said her insurance company refused to pay to fix the damage because it was caused by a DWP water pipe.

“The insurance company denied the claim, stating that because the pipe burst off the property and on city property, it’s their [DWP’s] responsibility,” she said.

So Richman filed a claim with DWP, and she said a lawyer representing the utility told her they might reimburse her for half the amount of the damage.

“Half does not give me back what I had. Half is half. I want to be whole again,” Richman said.

While she waits for an arbitration hearing with DWP in November, she said she’s had to rent an apartment while still paying the mortgage on her flooded home.

“The expenses are mind-boggling,” Richman told NBC4.

Out-of-pocket expenses have also piled up for Renita Sweed because of the five or so water main breaks in front of her Hollywood duplex that flooded and ruined two of her cars and soaked the foundation of her house, forcing her at times to stay in motels and pay for rental cars.

“Why does my life have to be upended because of watermain breaks?” Sweed pondered.

Sweed said her homeowner’s insurance wouldn’t pay for damage to the duplex because the flooding originated from a DWP pipe in the street. She said her car insurance did reimburse her for a lot, but not all, of the cost of the two totaled cars.

Sweed said her out-of-pocket expenses because of damage from water main breaks is more than $8,000. So, she filed a claim with DWP after one of the most recent water main breaks, and DWP offered her $910.14 — reimbursement for her deductible and rental car — if she released them from all liability.

She turned down DWP’s offer.

“Of course I didn’t take it. Are you kidding?” Sweed told NBC4.

Sure enough, months later, the same water main in front of her duplex burst again, causing more damage.

LADWP told the I-Team in addition to the offer of $910.14, they also reimbursed Sweed’s insurance company.

In a statement to the I-Team, a spokesperson said, “LADWP received a claim for damages from Ms. Sweed’s insurance company and paid $20,879.63 to reimburse for the cost of damages incurred as a result of this incident. When insurance companies cover damages, our customers often don’t realize that these funds are reimbursed by LADWP to the insurance company.”

DWP has now replaced the aging mains in front of Sweed and Richman’s houses. The department would not comment about the broken pipe and the flood that ruined Richman’s home. Richman filed a claim against LADWP in March 2023.

DWP told the I-Team in a statement, “Before LADWP made an evaluation or determination regarding the claim, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the customer on June 20, 2023. Due to pending litigation, we are unable to comment further on this case.”

The utility told the I-Team that overall, its pipes leak at a rate “well below the national average,” and this past fiscal year, it replaced 43 miles of mainline pipes. The DWP has 7,300 miles of water pipes under LA.

DWP told NBC4: “If DWP customers experience damage to their property or dwelling and need to file a claim, they can visit www.ladwp.com/claims to access a copy of LADWP’s claim form and additional information about how to file a claim. Subject to certain exceptions, customers have six months to file a claim for death, personal injury or damage to personal property, and one year to file a claim for damage to real property or for any other type of incident.”


Article Source: If an LA water main floods your house or car, you could be left paying for damages  – NBC Los Angeles