GEORGETOWN — John Cahall’s message to Georgetown Village Council was clear: Pay for damages to his property, or he’ll consider legal action.
Cahall, who lives on Free Soil Road, suffered major damage in his home after a village sewage flush station on his property backed up into his home on the evening of July 18, when around four inches of rain fell in a 90-minute span over Brown County. Cahall estimated that his total costs would be around $30,000, and his home insurance company has already cut him a $10,000 check as part of their insurance police.
But Cahall, who first told his story at Georgetown’s August village council meeting, wasn’t so lucky when it came to Georgetown. Georgetown’s insurance agents, HCC Insurance Holdings, rejected all of the village’s claims for damages, due to the unlikely weather event, or in legal terms, calling the event an “act of God,” as well as citing Ohio Revised Code Statute 2744, which they claimed makes the village immune to liability for damages.
Cahall made it clear that he didn’t think his treatment by the village, and their insurance company, was acceptable.
“I’ve done everything I know to do, and I petitioned the council to do what you can do, and at this point, I’m not sure that I’m happy with the results of that,” Cahall said at Georgetown’s Sept. 10 village council meeting. “I’m probably $20,000 out based on two hours of sewer coming in (to my house).”
As Cahall continued to speak and explain his situation, he began to grow more and more enraged.
“I’m sorry that we had four inches of rain in an hour, but I have a contract with Georgetown,” Cahall said. “I pay the utility bill that says you’re going to take my trash, you’re going to provide the electric, you’re going to provide me water, and you’re going to take my sewer out. No where in that contract does it say it might come back in your house. That’s upsetting to me.”
Cahall explained that he met with a man contracted to HCC Insurance Holdings, and lamented how, through his own experience in selling insurance, that an insurance company’s top goal is to deny a claim.
“His job is to deny the claim, and he got that done,” Cahall said.
Cahall then told a story about how some Georgetown village employees recently visited the flush station, and seemed to not know how the flush station worked.
“On top of the flush station there’s two big man hole lids,” Cahall said. “I think (one of the workers) opened the first open, and said ‘Oh, so that’s how that works. It angles over a little bit, and then goes that way.’ And then another guy opened it up and said ‘whoa, this thing’s full of water. But I don’t think that’s sewer.’ These are the guys who came out to determine whether it worked right or not.
“I’m trying not to get upset, but I’ve been a good boy for the last seven weeks since two hours of sewer came into my house.”
Cahall also said that it looked clear to him that village employees hadn’t checked up on the flush station since he built his home in 1987.
“Something malfunctioned. I don’t care if it’s four inches of rain or not. That particular unit did not do its job, or there would not have been sewer in my house. When they came back to look at this, I asked for records for maintenance. When they came last month, they had to move (a lot of) things to get to that. Obviously nobody’s been there to look at that to see whether it works or not.”
Cahall did finally raise his voice when discussing his experience with the village’s insurance company.
“This is on you. This is your situation, the people you pay your money to, to protect you. These guys ask me the question, ‘if we pay yours, then we’ll have to pay everybody that files a claim in Georgetown.’”
“So what?,” Cahall exclaimed. “That’s not my problem. I have a problem that an insurance company should pay for.”
Citing three decisions by the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals, Cahall believes that he could have a case should he go to court. Cahall said that a lawyer advised him to demand Georgetown village council speaks with their insurance company to pay for Cahall’s claim.
“The lawyer is anxious to take the case, against Georgetown or against somebody, to pay his claim,” Cahall said. “Basically, what (the court of appeals decisions) was saying to me, is you are not immune from litigation in this case.
“I am prepared, if necessary, to get an attorney next week, and come back and ask for my money.”
Cahall reiterated that he’s only asking for $20,000, but if it went to court, that amount could rise to include compensatory damages to he and his family.
Village council went into executive session to discuss legal matters with Georgetown Solicitor Joe Braun after Cahall’s public comments.
Upon exiting executive session, Braun relayed the village’s message back to Cahall.
“We’ve undertaken some extensive research already in the matter. Based on the information provided tonight, over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to look at the issue again. My instruction is to report back to council at the next meeting, which I will do, after I’ve had an opportunity to conduct some additional due diligence.”
Georgetown Mayor Dale Cahall added, “There is some more investigating work we have to get done before we can come back to a decision. At this next council meeting, that evidence and information should be readily available to our council.”
When asked to clarify, Dale Cahall said it was engineering investigations.
The next meeting will be on Sept. 24 at 7:00 p.m.