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Cities in Pennsylvania, including Bethlehem, generally are not liable to property owners for repair, cleanup, and contents damage resulting from sinkholes, water main breaks, sewer line breaks, blockages and backups unless caused by the city’s negligence.
Homeowner’s insurance policies typically exclude coverage for damage resulting from sinkholes, water and sewer main breaks, and sewer backups. Coverage for these events must be requested and purchased as a rider to the homeowner’s policy. This means that, without the rider, the homeowner personally bears the expense for cleanup and repairs to the home and to replace damaged contents.
Cleaning up and repairing property damaged by a water or sewer main break or by a sinkhole, and removing contents contaminated by a sewer backup should happen rapidly, within hours or days, because of considerations of health, safety, and preserving property value. Oftentimes, it will take longer for the City and its insurance carrier to investigate the cause of an event and determine whether it was caused by negligence. Therefore, the homeowner should consider hiring a cleanup or repair service promptly to protect his or her property and not demand and wait for the City or its insurer to offer this service.
If it is determined by the City and its insurer that the City’s negligence caused a sinkhole, water or sewer line break, or a sewer backup, then arrangements for reimbursement of the homeowner’s expenses will be negotiated at a later date. This determination can take weeks or months. Near term, property owners should anticipate bearing some or all of the expense to clean up or repair their home and property.
For these reasons, it is the City’s recommendation that property owners consult with their insurance agent about expanding their insurance protection and ask about purchasing riders for insurance coverage for such events and damages as discussed above.