Contact 2 investigates insurance claim denial after sewer backup

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WASHINGTON, Mo. – Tim Glastetter could smell the raw sewage before he entered his family’s home in Washington, Missouri. In June, the noxious nuisance seeped into the basement of the property for the third time since 2013.

“Comes in there and eventually starts to flood the basement. Then eventually, it gets deep enough it starts running out the back door,” Glastetter said.

Glastetter said a clogged manhole in the neighbor’s backyard caused the previous backups, but this time the issue was found at street-level.

“It was completely under landscaping rock. It had a bird bath sitting on top of it. Or a planter sitting on top of it,” he said.

Glastetter said the way it was covered prompted him to ask the workers if they’d maintained the manhole.

“He said he could only vouch for the last year because that’s as long as he’s worked for the city, but he said he’s never checked that manhole,” he said.

More on that in a minute. With the clog cleared, Glastetter paid more than $7,000 to have his family’s basement professionally cleaned. He shared his documentation with the city and Washington filed a claim with its insurance company. Despite receiving compensation for damages after the two earlier sewer backups, the Glastetters received a claim denial in early July. Travelers Insurance said there was a lack of negligence against the City of Washington.

“I questioned, who is negligent? The general public cannot have those inspected and they assure us each time it won’t happen again,” Glastetter said.

We took those concerns to Washington City Administrator Darren Lamb.

“We’re following the advice of both our insurance company and our legal counsel. They said the city is not liable,” Lamb said. “To go against the recommendations of both of those, we feel we’d be doing something unjust for the taxpayers of the city. It’s really unfortunate that the Glastetter’s had to go through this, however, like I said, we’re doing what we can to try and maintain our system and continue to do so.”

We requested five years’ worth of public works records to see how exactly the city of Washington maintained the sewer system in the Glastetters’ neighborhood.

The reports we received focused on the manhole located in the Glastetter’s neighbor’s backyard. According to Public Works Board meeting minutes posted on the city’s website, after the previous backups, city crews were supposed to be performing monthly maintenance checks. But from June 2015 to January 2018, we found four different stretches, totaling nearly 20 months, where there was no record of any maintenance or inspection checks done at the site.

We also found no record of any maintenance reports for this street-level manhole until after the Glastetters’ basement flooded in June. Remember the conversation Glastetter said he had with the city worker the day of the third backup?

“He said he’s never checked that manhole,” he said.

The city’s records appear to support that claim. Included in the records we obtained was an aerial water department map of manhole locations in the Glastetters’ neighborhood.

Handwritten notes specifically point to the backyard manhole, noting it received routine maintenance. It also acknowledges the street-level manhole that caused the June backup was not maintained. Washington’s Public Works Board discussed the situation.

According to meeting minutes, a city official said this about the street-level manhole: "This was buried, the lid was, this is a problem my side (engineering) and we need to ensure that this does not happen again.”

Tim Glastetter said he wants to know if city officials or Travelers Insurance representatives reviewed the records Contact 2 uncovered before determining the city of Washington wasn’t negligent.

“I mean, I know most of these people on the board. That they can just turn their cheek and look the other way and act like nothing has happened. It makes us question the city we’re living in,” Glastetter said.

We shared the findings of our investigation with Travelers Insurance. In a statement, Travelers said, “We do not discuss the details of claims for privacy reasons but we will take the information you sent us into consideration.”

We’ll continue to follow this case and share any updates.

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