Bamboozled: Families battle over waste

The fight for sewer damage relief has not yet gone down the toilet.BB branding

Last year, Bamboozled reported about the struggles of several families — against several municipalities — to get financial relief after their homes were flooded with untreated waste after sewer lines broke at the street level.

In each case, the municipality’s self-insurance funds denied the homeowners’ claims.

The homeowners we profiled said they weren’t done fighting.

The home of Sean Kinney of Roselle Park was damaged to the tune of $37,293, including property loss and repairs, after several incidents when raw sewage poured into his basement. The last incident, in March 2010, dumped more than 2 feet of the stuff.

He recovered $5,000 from his homeowners’ insurance, and his claim for the rest of the damage was denied by Roselle Park’s self-insurance pool — New Jersey Intergovernmental Insurance Fund (NJIIF).

Kinney decided to take the town to court. He filed suit in February for $15,000.

“My damages are over $30,000, but it’s the furthest I can go without getting involved in Superior Court,” Kinney said in an e-mail last month.

32811He said he decided to represent himself because by the time the legal fees were paid, he didn’t think he’d net more than $15,000 anyway.

“I paid the extra $50 for a jury to be present if it does go to court,” he said. “Anyone I have spoken to other than the insurance company and the town’s lawyer supports me and my position. I think for the insurance company to win their argument against me in front of my peers, they are going to have to have a very, very compelling story.”

We’re waiting to hear more as the case proceeds.

Then there’s the Moroses family of Clifton. In May 2010, a sewer line backed up at the street level, dumping several inches of sewage into their basement.

They had $15,364 in damages.

Within days, Mary Ellen Moroses said the town mayor, James Anzaldi, said the town would pick up whatever her homeowners’ policy didn’t cover. He has since denied making that statement.

Like Kinney, the couple recovered $5,000 from a rider on their homeowners’ policy.

The town’s insurance fund, managed by Inservco, offered to pay $1,500, then after weeks of negotiations, $3,500. That’s an amount Moroses called “unacceptable.”

After seeing how many other families had similar experiences with the insurance funds of other municipalities, she tried to rally the troops for possible group action.

The families did research, talked to attorneys and met, deciding it would be too expensive, she said.

“It would cost each of us as much or more than we could hope to recoup, even if the suit were settled in our favor,” she said. “And if we didn’t win the suit, we would have been out a lot of money for nothing.”

“We’ve already lost $10,000 due to the city’s negligence and, as senior citizens, we cannot afford to lose any more money due to the sewer back-up,” she said.

Moroses told Bamboozled on her own, she’s considering filing a suit against the town in Superior Court in Passaic County.

Michael David’s Clifton home had $20,000 of damage after wastewater flowed into his basement when he had a house full of guests on Christmas Eve, 2006. He said Mayor Anzaldi also suggested the town’s insurance fund would pay for whatever damage wasn’t covered by homeowners’ insurance. His claim, too, was denied.

To date, the Davids have decided a court battle isn’t worth it.

We’ll keep you posted.

Bamboozled getting bamboozled

Every once in a while, even consumer reporters feel they haven’t been treated fairly.

Back in October 2010, this reporter paid off an auto loan with GMAC. After a few months, the title for the car (well, minivan) was never received. So it was time to call GMAC. Actually, to call Ally Bank, the company’s new name as of 2010.

The rep said the title was sent, regular mail, in October when the loan was satisfied.

But the title was never received.

Sorry, the rep said, and he’d be happy to send a letter stating the loan was satisfied. The letter could be presented to the Motor Vehicle Commission with a request for a duplicate title.

Hang on a moment. The title was sent regular mail but was never received, so now the hassle and cost — $60 — to obtain a duplicate title was the customer’s responsibility?

Yes, the rep said.

Okay. Now, the company used to be GMAC, all the bills were sent from, and paid to GMAC. Is it possible the title was sent under the Ally Bank name and it was overlooked?

We don’t know what company name the title was mailed under, he said.

Sure, a letter from Ally, an institution that this home has never done business with, could have been tossed, but nothing from GMAC would have been dumped.

Might it make more sense for important documents such as titles to be sent under mail that can be tracked, or mail that requires a signature?

What if an unsavory neighbor steals a title from a mailbox and then steals a car, um, minivan? It could have been sold by a huckster, and the consumer would have little recourse.

“We can’t control the post office,” the rep said. “We’ve done our part.”

So, Ally sent a waiver saying the loan had been paid, and this consumer grudgingly wrote a $60 check, requesting the title from MVC.

An Ally Bank representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

But I’m not happy about it. Not at all.