Archive for Thursday, October 20, 2005

Water used to battle fire damages home

Backed up sewer not covered by insurance

October 20, 2005


Facing $30,000 in damages and a big, fat N-O from his insurance company, Michael Clover can't help wondering why he ever bothered to buy homeowner's coverage.

"I really think I'd be better off if I'd just put all that money in the bank and self-insured," Clover said Wednesday.

Clover, his wife, Beth, and their two daughters live in the half of a duplex that's next door to and downhill from the Boardwalk Apartments building that was destroyed by fire earlier this month.

Runoff from the gallons and gallons of water aimed by firefighters at the blaze overwhelmed Clover's sewer, causing it to back up.

"The drain in the utility room, the sinks, the toilets - everything just started backing up," said Clover, who owns the duplex. "We probably had 10 firefighters in and out of there for like two and half hours, helping us push the water out. We couldn't keep up."

Surely, Clover figured, his homeowner's insurance would cover the damages.

He figured wrong.

Mike Clover, who lives at 3213 Trail, looks over the damage to his duplex the day after the Boardwalk Apartments fire. The water used to battle the fire backed up the sewers, causing them to back up into his duplex, flooding it with raw sewage. His insurance policy doesn't cover the damages.

Mike Clover, who lives at 3213 Trail, looks over the damage to his duplex the day after the Boardwalk Apartments fire. The water used to battle the fire backed up the sewers, causing them to back up into his duplex, flooding it with raw sewage. His insurance policy doesn't cover the damages.

Not all homeowner's policies cover damages caused by sewers backing up. Clover's does not.

"It turns out they don't even offer it," he said, referring to his insurer, ZC Sterling, a Georgia-based company.

Calls to ZC Sterling's corporate office in Atlanta were not returned Wednesday.

Clover, 29, said he's insured with ZC Sterling because it was part of his loan with Chase Home Mortgage. He's filed an appeal with ZC Sterling, claiming the damages were more fire-related than sewer-related.

"I'm waiting to hear from them," he said.

But the Kansas Insurance Commissioner's Office isn't optimistic.

"Unfortunately, it appears he doesn't have the kind of coverage that would protect him against what happened," said Charlene Bailey, a spokeswoman for the insurance commissioner's office.

Bailey said the commissioner's office could not force an insurer to pay for damages that are not covered.

Beth and Mike Clover stand in the kitchen of their home, which was flooded during the recent Boardwalk Apartments fire. The Clovers have had to strip the house after it was flooded when the sewer became overwhelmed with the runoff of water used to fight the fire at the apartments.

Beth and Mike Clover stand in the kitchen of their home, which was flooded during the recent Boardwalk Apartments fire. The Clovers have had to strip the house after it was flooded when the sewer became overwhelmed with the runoff of water used to fight the fire at the apartments.

"We have no leverage of any kind," Bailey said.

Clover said the repairs and replacing the family's refrigerator, washer and dryer were expected to cost more than $30,000.

"We don't have that kind of money," he said. Clover is a truck driver; his wife is a medical assistant.

The Clovers have the option of suing the city of Lawrence or Boardwalk Apartments.

"But that takes a lawyer, and to hire a lawyer takes a $5,000 retainer," Clover said. "We don't have that either."

City and fire department officials have given the Clovers written statements, conceding that the water from the fire caused the sewer to back up.

"We're trying to help them," said City Manager Mike Wildgen.

Still, the city denied a claim filed by Clover.

"Our liability is limited to issues of negligence, and we've not found negligent actions on our part," said Jennifer Harvey, risk manager with the city's administrative services department.

The Clovers praised Lawrence firefighters.

"They were wonderful, thoughtful, helpful and kind," Beth Clover said. "We couldn't have asked for any better help that night."

Since the fire, the Clovers have been living with Beth Clover's mother in North Lawrence.

The family can't return to the duplex because their youngest daughter, Abigail, 4, has asthma.

"It has to be professionally cleaned because of all the fumes and mold that are in there now," said Beth Clover. "It's not something we can do."

Michael Clover said the family may have to file for bankruptcy.

"I don't want to lose what I've spent the last seven years paying on," he said. "But right now, I don't know what else we can do. We can't keep making payments and pay to clean it up."

Chris Chapin, an agent with Stephens Insurance, said he didn't know the Clovers, but he encouraged all homeowners to call their agents to find out whether they have sewer-backup coverage.

"With some companies its 'standard equipment,'" he said. "With others it's optional and some don't offer it. So if you don't know, you need to find out."

It's also good advice, Chapin said, to deal with companies that have local representatives.

"You want to be dealing with someone you can sit across from, someone whose neck you can get your hands around," he said.


Richard Heckler 12 years, 6 months ago

Why can't the city's drainage systems deal with these situations? Too many residential complexes in one area?

What other parts of town may also find this identical situation?

Insurance coverage should not be the about larger sewer systems in over crowded areas?

How much water trouble can west and northwest Lawrence expect in the future?

What about other areas overloaded with multiple family dwellings such as south of 23rd behind Hobby Lobby?

neopolss 12 years, 6 months ago

If this was a nice West Lawrence house, there wouldn't be an issue here. Come on Lawrence, do the right thing here. It doesn't matter who started the fire, the actions of putting it out still affected a city resident.

Maybe Walmart's lawyer can give this family a call. They're pretty used to dealing with the city of Lawrence.

MegaHawk 12 years, 6 months ago

What they also have not talked about is how he also rented to myself and my wife (who is 4 months prego) on the other side of the duplex. I have been living out of Hotels. At first the insurance gave OK to clean up then called back and pulled out. Mike Clover was a great landlord but do to this situation I have not yet gotten my deposit or Oct. rent back yet making times tough. Looks like I'm going to have tp sign a 12 month lease even though I was planning on buying a house in the next 6 months.

The City of Lawrence has made me want to leave tgis great town. COME ON SOMEONE GIVE THIS MAN SOME HELP INSTEAD OF LEAVING BEHIND ONE OF LAWRENCE'S OWN. The city flooded the city should pay. Here I thought that the city of Lawrence was different than other BS.

bankboy119 12 years, 6 months ago

Lawrence isn't a great town Hawk that's where you're wrong. Get out while you can.

BDub 12 years, 6 months ago

"Our liability is limited to issues of negligence, and we've not found negligent actions on our part," said Jennifer Harvey, risk manager with the city's administrative services department.

I guess DOING THE RIGHT THING never entered her mind. The City of Lawrence needs to pay for this because they and/or their poor drainage systems caused the damage. Don't make these people sue to get reimbursed - it just costs them and everyone in Lawrence more money because of court costs and legal fees. This is just the kind of case where the city should be apologetic and pay for the damage without waiting to be sued for it.

Jennifer Harvey, I'm sure your job as "risk manager" essentially means to deny any liability in any case, I understand that. I just hope something like this happens to you one day and an equally heartless bureaucracy denies you any help.

jmckean 12 years, 6 months ago

The city needs to step up and help the Clover's! What is $30,000 to the city! Remember the city wastes $100,000 a year on letting certain city employee's take their work vechiles home with them! Give me a break. Enough lives have been ruined by this fire. We have a chance to do something about these peoples lives. Lawrence is better than this.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years, 6 months ago

Every homeowner needs flood insurance. There are so many ways that water can damage your home. Not being in a floodplain doesn't mean you are not at risk for water damage.

I don't blame the city at all for not picking up the tab. Why do we ALWAYS expect government to fix EVERY problem? Where are his neighbors? Why aren't they helping him to rip up the carpet and clean up? My wife's uncle has a business in downtown Leavenworth and it flooded (8 inches of mud) when Stranger Creek crested a few weeks ago. Without making a single phone call a dozen friends and other local business owners showed up and spent ALL DAY shoveling mud and cleaning equipment. Two days later I found out about it and asked why he didn't call me to help. He said he already had too much help as it was. A city should not to be judged by how loose the city government is with it's public funds, but by the character of it's people.

The city is not WHY this happened. It happened because of a fire. Why to do people always think that when bad things happen, someone should be considered liable? Stuff happens. The only thing the city did was put out a fire. Do we want the city to hesitate next time there is a fire? "It's a small fire... and we don't want a lawsuit. Let's wait and see what happens before we get out the hoses. If the fire starts burning out of control, call our legal counsel and ask them what we should do." Is that what the citizens of Lawrence want next time there is a fire, or the next time a paramedic considers doing CPR?

Who should pay? THE ARSONIST. The reason why the water damage happened was because someone lit a fire. The city did what they were supposed to do, and we (including the homeowner) should be happy they did it. If that fire had been allowed to get more involved, that duplex would be gone, not just water damaged.

monkeywrench1969 12 years, 6 months ago

Are they referring to the actions of the fire department being negligent...god no. Maybe they need to be looking at the negligence of the city planning, building inspection, sewage and waste water, codes enforcement.

How many people remember the tornado that hit the southwest section of town. There were a series of new homes totaled...entire walls were lifted off the foundation and it was later found because they were NOT secured by the screws to the foundation, yet these homes were cleared by the city building inspectors. One should ask how many permits are back dated or approved without an inspector showing up to clear or approve the work.

My question is why did this duplex have drainage problems and others in the area did not.

Maybe someone in the private sector with building inspection background should comp some work and check the drainage system to determine see it should have been approved.

monkeywrench1969 12 years, 6 months ago


I agree the main cause of this is the arsonist, but he obviously does not have money otherwise he would not have been living in Boardwalk apartments. If they wait on him to pay especially if he is convicted it will never happen.

There are problems when you have homes all around this one withno drainage problems and an isolated home which did.

I may be talking out of my butt here but is this a home with or without a basement. I would be more likely to say stuff happens if this was a slab home and they had the water run through because it was level or below the water run off...that is a freak accident, but an overflow in a drain makes me wonder more about the drainage system overall.

raven 12 years, 6 months ago

Old: No one is saying it is the Fireman's faults. But, this family is still having problems b/c the amount of water being used backed up their sewer (which would NOT be covered under flood insurance) it would be covered under back-up of sewer and drain coverage and THAT is what everyone should have. Not flood.

Anyway, is this the Fire Departments fault? No! Not at all!! They were doing the job and using the amount of water necessary.

These people's home is still in shambles though and they need the money to fix it. I for one would like to donate to them--if someone would let me know how-I will send them some money.

Jamesaust 12 years, 6 months ago

The tortfeasor, here the arsonist, is always liable. But that does not mean solely liable. The city manager's comment is incorrect in its omission. Yes, if negligent the city is liable. The city is also liable for its purposeful action and the foreseeable consquences of that action in context. Here, I don't see an immediate alternative to the city's (fire department) action and if there is a sewer system design issue the linkage between planning and a fire are not very close.

A more interesting question is whether the nanny-like city here in the Peoples' Republic should stop obsessing over cellphones and perhaps require all household in Lawrence to carry flood insurance (not that I favor it). If the city insists on intervening in our affairs quite so intimately, the least they could do is focus on something that might actually have direct, substantial, and positive impact.

MegaHawk 12 years, 6 months ago

Trail and FireSide are at the bottom of the street at it's lowest point. That is were my side of the duplex was at. Before the flooding the run-off from the building fire was streaming down my backyard.

While my wife was in the ambulance to stay away from the sewage fumes a firefighter told her that the city had ironically called them that afternoon (approx. 2:30) and told them they would be shutting down the water from the water towers in that area because there was too much chlorine in the water which caused the fire hoses to not get enough pressure to start putting out the fire sooner. Yet you hear no mention of this?

Old Enuf I'm sure you wouldn't be thinking the same thing if your place was ruined by this. The city made a mistake and $30,000 to correct it is needed.

raven 12 years, 6 months ago

Ok, I am being nit picky here--and I understand that--but I copied and pasted this directly from the article above.

Runoff from the gallons and gallons of water aimed by firefighters at the blaze overwhelmed Clover's sewer, causing it to back up.

So, the sewer backed up--the house did not flood. Therefore, even if he would have had flood insurane it would not have covered this. Nothing frustrates me more simple mistakes such as this. The flood insurance point is mute.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years, 6 months ago

I may have flubbed a bit regarding the type of insurance needed... but my point is that most of us need more/better insurance than we have. Katrina victims are finding out about the difference between "floodwaters" and "wind driven rain", and finding out that a lot of them are not ensured the way they needed to be for living in a storm-prone area.

I've lived in Lawrence for some years now, and I've known multple people who have lived in homes on corner lots with basements who have had chronic problems with back-ups, and not always due to rain. Sometimes I wonder about the code enforcement issues as well.

craigers 12 years, 6 months ago

Wouldn't negligence be that the city knew the system couldn't hold that much water but did nothing about it? I mean when you get a system ready whether it be computer, sewer, whatever, don't you plan for possible problems and try to eleviate them?

Linda Aikins 12 years, 6 months ago

OldEnuf, you didn't "flub", you were wrong. Come on - you can say it.

You are always such a bright spot in these posts...

monkeywrench1969 12 years, 6 months ago

Too true off to the right. They want to feed all of the able body homeless and build more shelters so more will come rather than help this working family.

I used to live on a corner lot and had major water problems. It was before drainage tile was a standard. The basement walls cracked and leaked due to water pressure against the foundation and nowhere to go. We had to cut into the floor and put in a sump, drainage to relieve the pressure. When we bought the house the inspector said everything was okay and we shouldnot have any water in the basement

kansasboy 12 years, 6 months ago

Hey Mike Clover works up at the Ranch Thurs. Fri. Sat. nights (one of his many jobs). Stop in and see if you can help out. I know him and his wife very well and he is a hard working family man. On the flip side I had my basement flood at one point and lukily the sump pump gave out which saved my arse. However KansasCarpet Care came in and ran the bill up soooo high for unnecesary stuff we didn't get much to replace the stuff we lost. Kansas Carpet Care sucks don't EVER call them in an emergency. I'll step off my soapbox now and let someone else step up.

dviper 12 years, 6 months ago

Surface water run-off should be going into the storm sewer. The sanitary sewer and storm sewer are two physically different structures that do not interconnect. When surface water run-off from any source gets into the sanitary sewer lines this is a big problem, as evident not only by this tragedy, but by previous large rainfalls that caused sanitary sewer problems. This condition has been occuring for many years, and is caused primarily by broken storm and sanitary pipes, manhole covers, and by sump pumps that are connected to the sanitary sewer, in some cases illegally. This is happening primarily in the older areas of Lawrence, but not always.

I would rather my tax dollars be spent on repairing the sanitary sewer problems than on unnecessary traffic circles, roundabouts, or the 'empty' bus system. The city is responsible for conducting tests, and regularly inspecting both sanitary and storm sewer systems. When was this area last inspected? or any areas?

cece_stand 12 years, 6 months ago

Two above posts have mentioned flood insurance; both acknowledged flood insurance would not have covered the situation detailed in this news story. My heart goes out to the people. This is not a situation any of us would wish to experience.

To use this forum as an educational opportunity I would like to advise what flood insurance will and will not do. Mortgage holders for property in designated flood areas require flood insurance; it is an optional purchase for property owners who do not have a mortgage. For mortgaged homes the premium amount is based on the mortgage balance. FEMA receives the premium; it must be paid annually (no monthly payments).

An insured can collect on Flood Insurance if the house is moved off the foundation by floodwaters. The insurance WILL pay to replace the foundation. It will NOT cover the contents; the homeowner policy covers that.

For 15 years I lived in an area designated as a 100-year flood plain. The flood insurance premium was more expensive than the homeowner policy. One can imagine how distressed I became watching news interviews after a hurricane destroyed coastal homes when affected residents vowed to re-build in the same spot. I knew I was paying for their ocean view. Oops, you can tell I just wanted to have the time-share rights I was certain I had paid with every flood insurance premium.

I will acknowledge the possibility flood insurance has changed since my policy. Corrections to the above are welcomed.

Class is dismissed.

Jeanette Reiling 12 years, 6 months ago

The insurance company should be obligated to pay this claim as a fire related claim. Although the home was not damaged directly by the fire, the fire caused the problem with the home. The city has written statements confirming that the damage to this home was due to the large water usage for the fire. The damage to this home should not be classified as flood or sewer backup damage, but actual secondary damage caused by the fire. Bottom line, the couples homeowners insurance should pay without question. Something to think about, had this couple had a fire in their home that night would the damage for the fire and the water damage caused by the firefighters efforts both be paid for by the insurance company? I think so.

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