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#181942 11/10/08 05:50 PM
Joined: Jan 2004
Posts: 54
About a year and a half ago we installed a service in a 4 unit apartment building. Everything has been fine until a few days ago when the phone rang. The owner of the building informed me that one of the ground rods I installed penetrated the sewer pipe outside of the building. They had been experiencing back ups and eventually had a company run a camera through the pipe, where they could see the ground rod that had gone through the pipe.

As it turns out, the ground rod was not the majority of the problem. Beyond the rod, it was discovered that a 10' section of the pipe had substantially collapsed and was allowing very little waste to exit through it. The waste pipe exits the building about 20' away from the rod and then makes a 90 degree turn and runs parallel with the building, about 3' away from the foundation. There was no way to expect the pipe to be anywhere near where the rod was driven. We could see the natural gas line entering the building and were careful to avoid that.

The owner had the collapsed pipe and the section with tghe rod replaced just about the time I was informed and expects me to pay for a portion of the repairs. I have mixed feelings on this issue. On one hand I know the owner should not bear the burden of my "mistake". He is a good guy and I hope to do work for him in the future. On the other hand the pipe was already damaged and would have had to be replaced anyway. I also feel like "how the hell could I have know the pipe was there?". It make me want to never install another ground rod again, or should I have some sort of a disclaimer in my contract? Was I negligent?

I'm just about to sit down and negotiate with the guy and would like other people's opinions.


Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 5,370
Likes: 1
Cat Servant
At this point, probably the most sensible thing is to let the insurance companies - yours and his - figure it out amongst themselves.

What? No insurance? Well ... all you're obligated to do is to restore things to the way they were before; that is, remove the rod, repair the rod damage, and fill the hole. What would you charge to do that job? Well, that's your contribution to the repair.

Everyone has an "oops" moment. At this point, all you can do is make a generous offer, and hope he sings your praises; new business is the sweetest 'fallout.'

Joined: Jul 2004
Posts: 9,788
Likes: 14
Interesting question. Do you think a "locate" would have found the pipe?

Greg Fretwell
Joined: Oct 2006
Posts: 745
I wouldn't go as far to say that it was due to negligence. I have to agree with Reno if you truly want to maintain peace with the customer. The problem is that the insurance deductible would probably cost as much as your repair efforts would have cost anyway. Not to mention that you don't want to have any claims against your insurance policy these days.

I'd sure question the location of that pipe, but I guess there aren't any rules that specifically say that a sewer pipe can't be there. Do you have any idea what caused the collapse of the pipe further down the line?

I say a few prayers every time I drive a ground rod too. It sure would be nice if a mandatory "safe zone" could be established for new buildings, similar to working clearance requirements for equipment. We are fairly lucky in these parts as all public utilities, to include sewer are marked by "Miss Utility", which helps to a certain extent. I'm sure that in your case, the building was under construction so who would have thought?


"But the guy at Home Depot said it would work."
Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 5,370
Likes: 1
Cat Servant
Ed, I do a lot of work in partnership with a local plumbing outfit.

I'd have to say that it's only a question of 'when,' and not 'if', a sewer will fail. Even a perfect install, using premium materials and methods, will eventually fail. The biggest culprit seems to be the unever settling of the earth, which leads to reverse sloping of the pipe. Tree roots are another factor; when they don't actually enter the pipe, they move it about. Add to that the sundry materials that pass through sewers - especially when there is a clogging issue - and you have a finite life to the pipes.

This may surprise many, but a large percentage of the sewer pipes out there are made of cardboard. This material, common right after WW2, is working far past any estimated working life.

As for locating the pipe ... while I am sure the technology exists, the "call before you dig" folks do not look for sewers.

Joined: Dec 2001
Posts: 300
utility mark out would not have found a privately owned sewer lateral.

If the pipe collapsed elsewhere, I don't see how you are responsible for the repair to the line.

However, if your mistake (not negligence)cost them money in drain service calls, you are probably responsible for that.

But it's not your problem anyway. Give the property owner your insurance info and let the two insurance companies figure it out.

Joined: Jun 2007
Posts: 301
Just fix it. You can recoup in the future. Make a friend of this customer. He will never forget the guy that helped him out, even when blame was not evident.

Joined: Oct 2000
Posts: 5,392
bum luck there leespark , but fair warning to us all as well

i only wish one of us could hit something good with a G-rod for a change...


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