Bill Would Assure Quick Relief For Water Break Victims
The biggest question a homeowner has after a water main break is: “Who will pay for my losses?” A bill introduced last week by city Councilmembers Peter Vallone Jr. and James Gennaro have provided the answer: “It’s the city’s infrastructure, so the city should pay.”
As Vallone sees it, “The city is much more able to bear the tremendous cost of a water main break and then to seek reimbursement from the negligent party.”
Following the mid-February water main break in Astoria Heights, which flooded or otherwise damaged about 50 homes, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, after some discussion and a letter from Vallone, decided the city would pay for the damages and then seek reimbursement from anyone found to have been responsible for the break.
Gennaro (D–Fresh Meadows), explaining his and Vallone’s legislation, stated: “As we’ve seen recently, without warning entire neighborhoods can be devastated by a water main break. Millions of dollars in personal belongings can go down the drain, leaving victims with no idea how and when they’ll be able to afford to replace them when any reimbursement will arrive.
“The current system for reimbursing victims of water main breaks has to be changed. This legislation will ensure that victims have ready access to financial assistance and can then immediately begin the process of rebuilding their property and their lives.”
The lawmakers cited two major water main breaks in proposing their legislation, the one in Astoria and another in Far Rockaway. They said in each case, and in the case of any break, victims often find that either their insurance doesn’t cover the damages or they face a long wait for reimbursement.
Furthermore, they said, until an investigation determines the fault of the break, which can take days to weeks to complete, victims are usually not able to seek reimbursement claims from the responsible parties. If the city is not at fault, they pointed out, victims may have to pursue damage claims individually, all the while bearing the financial burden of the losses. While the city ultimately agreed to help pay damages to the victims of the water main break in Astoria, future victims of such breaks do not have such a guarantee of assistance, Vallone and Gennaro said.
The legislation introduced by Gennaro and Vallone would require the city to provide expedited payouts to the victims of damages caused by water main breaks, regardless of whether the city is at fault for the break. The bill would also require that the city assume the task of recouping any damage payouts that are subsequently determined to be the responsibility of private parties.
This approach is modeled after, and would formally establish for victims of future water main breaks, the approach Bloomberg directed the city to take in response to the February incident in Astoria.
Under the proposed Vallone–Gennaro law, any victim whose property or personal belongings were damaged by a water main break would be able to receive payment for their losses if their individual insurance company does not cover them or if the item does not require insurance.
Claims would have to be filed with the city comptroller’s office within 90 days of the accident and could not exceed $250,000 in reimbursement for actual damages to property, the bill says. If a party other than the city is determined to be at fault for the break, then the city, not the victim, would be required to seek reimbursement.
The lawmakers said that the legislation will ensure that communities devastated by these types of accidents receive prompt reimbursement, allowing them to begin the process of rebuilding homes and lives as soon as possible.
Gennaro is chairman of the council Environmental Protection Committee; Vallone heads the Public Safety Committee.