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SAWS rejects damage claims after same pipe repeatedly bursts in front of Castle Hills home

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CASTLE HILLS, Texas – San Antonio Water System officials have dismissed a damage claim filed by a Castle Hills homeowner, despite the same water pipe bursting repeatedly in the woman’s front yard.

Homeowner Dorian Patrick filed the claim in September after learning her home needed tens of thousands of dollars in repairs to its foundation.

The application came after the same SAWS pipe that runs through her yard burst three times since 2020, causing large amounts of water to flow towards and around her home.

Foundation problems with the structure, particularly at the back door of the house, have worsened with each subsequent leak, Patrick said.

The pipe has burst two more times since SAWS late last year rejected Patrick’s original claim, making it a total of five water main breaks since 2020.

“The latest one looked like a geyser shooting at my house. Rocks and pebbles and everything,” Patrick said, pointing to the many rocks now on her roof.

Two videos recorded in 2021 show part of her yard caved in and large amounts of water pouring into the front of her home and then around the structure.

During an interview this month, Patrick struggled to open the back door of his home, an obvious safety hazard in the event of an emergency.

In addition, a significant main break washed St. Gone is the Augustine grass that was in Patrick’s front yard.

Dorian Patrick points to parts of her yard that used to be covered in St. Augustine grass. (KSAT)

She eventually installed landscaping near her driveway, which was subsequently obliterated by a separate main break.

“Do I want to do my plants again? Do I want to do my trees again? The damage to my landscape alone is concerning. The damage to my house is devastating,” said Patrick, who bought the house in 2017.

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In a Nov. 21 denial letter, a SAWS risk management officer informed Patrick that the utility was of the opinion that it was not responsible for the damage.

The employee wrote that SAWS is covered by the Texas Tort Claims Act and that the water main breaks did not involve the negligent use of powered equipment or a powered vehicle.

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Dorian Patrick tries to open his back door earlier this month. (KSAT)

The law sets forth the statutes under which a public entity in Texas can be held liable for property damage or personal injury.

“Under the circumstances, we must respectfully decline your claim,” the letter said.

Patrick filed another claim earlier this month.

SAWS officials did not make anyone available for an interview for this story.

Large rocks on Patrick’s roof after the latest water main break in front of her home. (KSAT)

Instead, a spokeswoman for the utility released a lengthy statement attempting to blame the problem on recent drought conditions.

“Like other utilities in the nation’s extreme drought in 2022, SAWS saw an increase in major outages. Contracting clay soils, like the soil on Castle Hills’ Towne Vue Drive, put pressure on water pipes, resulting in increased bursts. In 2022, with only one-third of our annual rainfall, SAWS crews put in significant amounts of overtime as they repaired a record 3,148 main repairs, double the number we had in 2021. The pipe in question is a 60-year-old cast iron line installed by BexarMet, a plant, which had a problematic history with service and materials, resulting in the state’s mandate for SAWS to take it over in 2012. While the main switch was scheduled for replacement in a few years, these main breaks occurred earlier than we would typically expect in a pipe of this age.With each of the breaks that have occurred, SAWS has inserted a segment (13 feet) of new pipe, resulting in the replacement of most of the pipe near this property. SAWS service area includes over 7,600 miles of water and 5,900 miles of sewer pipes. It is impossible to avoid damages throughout our service area, but SAWS works diligently to remedy damages as they occur to ensure continued access to water and wastewater for our customers. SAWS carefully reviews all submitted claims through its dedicated claims process, but as stewards of taxpayer funds, SAWS must assess each claim on its own merits, including assessments of liability and damages. When liability and/or damages cannot be substantiated, as was the case with Ms. Patrick’s September 2022 claim, SAWS communicates the rejection of the claim to the customer. The customer can then continue communicating with the SAWS claims handler if they have any questions or concerns. Ms. Patrick filed a new claim on January 17, 2023, which is still pending and under review by SAWS. As with all submitted claims, SAWS will review and investigate as necessary and communicate directly with Ms. Patrick regarding this new claim.”

However, as Patrick pointed out, several water main breaks in front of her home occurred before 2022.

“I don’t feel like SAWS even cares to know what the damage is or what the situation was. Someone just shuffles a piece of paper across their desk that says ‘don’t pay a claim,'” Patrick said.

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