Thursday, October 23, 2014

Frozen Water Lines....A "golden opportunity" to plan

On our last post we shared some information including sample policy language and a waiver on thawing frozen lateral lines.
 In the depths of the cold last year many cities felt pressured to make a decision on thawing lateral lines.  Some cities, and some contractors that a city might have recommended, used electric welders.  Some of the claims that came into the League specifically from using electric welders included:

* Fire damage to the home
* Damage to electrical appliances
* Stray current causing electrical equipment damage to neighboring properties
* A power surge that damaged radio systems equipment on the water tower
* Stray current that damaged phone lines

Here’s some comments from the head of the League of Minnesota Cities' property / casualty department.

Brian Pulczinski…… The P & C claims department received several frozen water/sewer line claims this past winter.  A city is obligated to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in the construction, maintenance and inspection of all utilities, including its water distribution system.  If the city fails to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in this area, OR if they respond to an occurrence inappropriately, the city could be found negligent and a third party may be able to recover damages. 

In the vast majority of these frozen water/sewer line cases, we found that most of the frozen lines were caused by an Act of God/Nature – unprecedented and unrelenting cold weather that caused frost to go deeper into the ground than ever before and deeper than the city could reasonably have anticipated occurring.  Generally speaking, the city is not negligent in these situations and not responsible for damages to a third party.  For the few cases we found negligence, most of these involved some type of action the city took when responding to the frozen lines (i.e. – using a welder to thaw out a frozen water line, causing a fire at a residence home).  

Here in the Loss Control department at the League we’ve identified two pieces of equipment that are specifically marketed to thaw frozen lines if your city/entity makes the decision to attempt to thaw frozen laterals (see previous post for some guidelines).  The “Hot Shot” The Hot Shot  distributed by General Pipe Cleaners and The Magikist Pulse De-icer.

Last year retailers ran out of equipment to sell due to the heavy demand across a wide section of the country.  Now is the time to make purchases and/or make arrangements with neighboring cities to share this equipment. Keeping in mind that it is just as cold for people in the neighboring city as it is in your own!  For that reason it is important to make note of where there were freeze ups in the past.   

Next up we’ll talk about some helpful hints to post on your city web page. 

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