What to do when a company causes property damage

Bell breaks water pipe, homeowner billed

Here’s what to do if a company damages your property

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The story of Toronto homeowner Juixiang Liu, who was billed with unexpected expenses after Bell damaged her water line during routine maintenance, as reported by CBC, has grabbed the attention of homeowners wondering what they should do in a similar situation.

For Liu, the ordeal began last February when Bell didn’t notify her of the city-authorized work that left her with a torn-up lawn and no water for over 30 hours in the middle of winter. The worst part? She received a bill from the City charging her $82 for a water shut-off fee while repairs were being made to her broken water line. Liu said that she had been having ongoing talks with Bell about their accountability for the expenses but the company only offered to compensate her after CBC became involved.

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Stories like Liu’s aren’t uncommon, according to Toronto real estate lawyer Mark Weisleder. Clearly, he says, Bell is responsible for the direct damages caused to the water line due to the negligence of its workers. As for the additional costs Liu absorbed, such as the water shut-off bill, that too would be the legal responsibility of Bell, as it’s a reasonably foreseeable cost that arose from the damage to the water line. “If this didn’t happen, why would the person have to pay to shut off their water?” Weisleder says.

As for Bell dragging its heels to make good on all the damages, Weisleder says it’s to be expected that companies won’t rush to pay off persons in these types of situations. Were Bell to automatically recoup Liu’s expenses with no review of the facts or any questions asked, the company could find itself paying for all sorts of absurd damages. For instance, he says, if a shut-off water line required you to cancel a dinner party that upset your friends, you couldn’t ask Bell for compensation. “That would be unreasonable. That’s why a company would be reluctant to pull out a blank cheque. They want to limit (damages).” This is also why you’ll often see companies push back against customer grievances, he adds.

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So, how long should it take for a company to make good on damages they’re responsible for? There’s really no time limit, Weisleder says. “In the case of a large company like Bell, they’re dealing with many customers and complaints. There’s a resolution process so it can take a while.”

But that’s not to say you can’t help speed things up. While most people won’t have a major news organization petitioning on their behalf, Weisleder says, social media can be an effective tool if you find a company isn’t being responsive to your concerns. “Now, you can tweet and they’ll respond in 10 minutes to avoid negative publicity.” Often, though, the most effective way to get the attention of a company is to simply “be a pest,” he says. “Continue writing, phoning, everything.” And if that process is still too slow for you, “sometimes it takes the threat of a lawsuit or serving them with lawsuit papers to get them to act faster.”

The bottom line? “Sometimes you have to be patient,” says Weisleder. “And in the case of a large company (like Bell), they’re not going anywhere. Eventually, it will get resolved.”