“What is the city doing with my tort claim?”
“The sewer is backing up into my house…” “Grab the towels and a bucket!”
“Call the water department, maybe they can help!” “This smell is awful!”
Expletives fly, panic sinks in, and moving into a hotel seems like the only way to escape the nightmare. If this has happened to you, you are not alone. Fortunately, there is a path to reclaiming your home and your peace of mind. It is called the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act. 1 The “GTCA” was created by, you guessed it, the Oklahoma government in order to “(1) to promote prompt investigations, (2) to provide early opportunity for correction of dangerous conditions, (3) to promote speedy and amicable settlements of claims and (4) to permit the governmental entity to prepare for fiscal consequences.” 2 Sounds good,
As we all know, dealing with any government comes with obstacles. The GTCA is no different, but Buxton Law Group has been navigating through these hurdles on behalf of our clients for over a decade. This article explains some of the ways a municipality can prevent their sewer system from backing up and flooding homes and businesses before a problem arises. This should not serve as legal advice, but as a general guide for sewer backup victims. For more in-depth information or for a case review, contact our office or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“What is the city doing with my tort claim?”
You’re wading in sewage in your own home. The city workers come out to “fix” the problem. Maybe your insurance company sends an adjustor or a remediation company to your house to start getting things back in order, but the entire time you are thinking to yourself “who is going to pay for this?” As the city trucks leave, after they’ve already told you it is against their “policy” to enter into your home and survey the damages, a worker that seems to be the most empathetic to your situation gives you some advice. He or she says that you need to go downtown and file a tort claim, and the city will take care of all of it from there. Finally, you can take a breath. In most circumstances, your sense of hope is short-lived when you get that coldly worded letter in the mail, not even a phone call, saying your claim is denied. But let’s back up for a minute and talk about what happened between the minute you filed the tort claim and the two-day old denial letter that just reached your mailbox.
1 51 O.S. §§ 151 et al.
2 Calvert v. Tulsa Pub. Schools, Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 1 of Tulsa County, 1996 OK 106, ¶ 19.
A Notice of Tort Claim is the exclusive remedy allowed by a government when it’s or its employees’ negligence cause harms and losses to a citizen. Compliance with the GTCA is a prerequisite to the state’s consent to be sued. What this means is, without a sufficient Notice of Tort Claim, the law does not allow the city or their insurer to pay your claims. By filing a tort claim, you knocked over the first domino in the series that has massive legal implications: you made them WAIVE their immunity from suit. You might as well say “You’ve been served!” when you turn over the tort claim form to the city employee. It is that big of a deal.
Then the paper shuffling begins. The front desk employee sends it up to the legal department. If the city has insurance, the insurance company is notified. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has laid out the reasons for the tort claim notice provisions, stating: “the underlying purposes of the statutorily—required notice are (1) to promote prompt investigations, (2) to provide early opportunity for correction of dangerous conditions, (3) to promote speedy and amicable settlements of claims and (4) to permit the governmental entity to prepare for fiscal consequences.”
While you would think that a notice of tort claim would get more attention from the city’s officials, most of the time they don’t even know about it. A lawyer or insurance adjustor working for the city is tasked with this “prompt investigation.” Despite the fact that most investigations include speaking to the actual victim, don’t expect a phone call. The city lawyer or adjustor will look at the city’s sewer records, talk to the people that came out to “fix” it, and read what you write in your tort claim. They might even hire a company to “scope” the city line with a CCTV camera or run a “smoke study,” but that is rare during the ninety-day tort claim period. Besides, many blockages are cleared within hours of the backup, so the evidence is already gone.
And while we’d love to say more about this investigation, that’s pretty much it! More of the emphasis is placed on that fourth policy reason for a notice of tort claim: to allow the city to prepare for the financial effects of their actions. Make no mistake, that is the priority. I guess you could say that it is understandable to be worried, even embarrassed, about messing up so bad that they have to use taxpayer money to pay for their mistakes. That money could pay for their employees’ wages, fix the roads or build a new park. But the importance of those expenses pale in comparison to the damages caused to a family home by raw sewage. You’ll dodge potholes and skip a day in the park for a comfortable, clean, safe house to live in.
Tuffy’s Inc v. City of Oklahoma City, 2009 OK 4, ¶ 7.2 Calvert v. Tulsa Pub. Schools, Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 1 of Tulsa County, 1996 OK 106, ¶ 19.
Shanbour v. Hollingsworth, 1996 OK 67.
Calvert v. Tulsa Pub. Schools, Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 1 of Tulsa County, 1996 OK 106, ¶ 19.
So, what should you do if you need to file a tort claim? Simple: call Buxton Law Group. We have represented sewer backup victims for more than a decade. Our knowledge of the GTCA, our trial experience and expertise, and our comprehensive understanding of sanitary sewer systems allows us to provide our clients with aggressive representation that is second to none. We will evaluate your case for free and inform you of every option you have, advise you on the proper way to proceed, and get you back on the road to recovery. During the ninety-day tort claim period, we will deal with the city and their insurance company on your behalf to ensure they know all of the facts, not just the ones they choose to see.
We have recovered millions on behalf of homeowners across Oklahoma who have had their property damaged and their lives turned upside down by failing sewer systems.
We are available for a free consultation to speak with you about your legal rights. Initial case reviews and evaluations are always free.
We’re here to help.