SAWS denies damage claim after same pipe repeatedly bursts in front of Castle Hills home

Homeowner Dorian Patrick says leaks have impacted the foundation of her home

CASTLE HILLS, Texas – San Antonio Water System officials have denied a damage claim filed by a Castle Hills homeowner, despite the same water pipe bursting over and over again in the woman’s front yard.

Homeowner Dorian Patrick filed the claim for damages in September after learning that her home needed tens of thousands of dollars in repairs to its foundation.

The filing came after the same SAWS pipe that runs through her yard burst three times since 2020, causing large amounts of water to flow toward and around her home.

Foundation problems with the structure, most notably at the back door to the house, have gotten worse with each successive leak, Patrick said.

The pipe has burst two more times since SAWS late last year denied Patrick’s initial claim, making it a total of five water main breaks since 2020.

“The most recent one looked like a geyser shooting at my house. Rocks and pebbles and everything else,” said Patrick, pointing to the multiple rocks now present on her roof.

Two videos recorded in 2021 show a portion of her yard caved in and large amounts of water rushing into the front of her home and then around the structure.

During an interview this month, Patrick struggled to open the back door to her home, an obvious safety hazard in the event of an emergency.

Additionally, a significant main break washed away the St. Augustine grass that was in Patrick’s front yard.

Dorian Patrick points out portions of her yard that used to be covered with St. Augustine grass. (KSAT)

She eventually installed landscaping near her driveway, which was subsequently wiped out by a separate main break.

“Do I want to do my plants again? Do I want to do my trees again? The damage to my landscape alone is troubling. The damage to my house is devastating,” said Patrick, who bought the home in 2017.

In a Nov. 21 denial letter, a SAWS risk management employee informed Patrick that the utility was of the opinion that it was not responsible for the damage.

The employee wrote that SAWS is covered by the Texas Tort Claims Act and that the water main breaks did not involve the negligent use of motor-driven equipment or a motor-driven vehicle.

Dorian Patrick attempts to open her back door earlier this month. (KSAT)

The act sets forth the statutes under which a public entity in Texas can be found liable for property damage or personal injury.

“Under the circumstances, we must respectfully deny your claim for damages,” the letter states.

Patrick filed a second claim for damages earlier this month.

SAWS officials did not make anyone available for an interview for this story.

Large rocks on Patrick's roof after the latest water main break in front of her home. (KSAT)

Instead, a utility spokeswoman released a lengthy statement attempting to blame the issue on recent drought conditions.

“Like other utilities in the nation’s 2022 extreme drought, SAWS experienced a spike in main breaks. Contracting clay soils, like the soil on Castle Hills’ Towne Vue Drive, put pressure on water pipes resulting in increased numbers of breaks. In 2022, with only a third of our annual rainfall, SAWS crews put in significant amounts of overtime as they repaired an all-time high of 3,148 main repairs. This is twice the number we had in 2021. The pipe in question is a 60-year old cast iron main installed by BexarMet, a utility which had a problematic history of service and materials resulting in the state’s mandate for SAWS to take it over in 2012. While the main was scheduled for replacement in a few years, these main breaks occurred earlier than we would typically expect in a pipe of this age. With each of the breaks that have occurred, SAWS has put in a segment (13 feet) of new pipe resulting in replacement of most of the pipe near this property. SAWS service area includes over 7,600 miles of water and 5,900 miles of sewer pipe. It is impossible to avoid damages throughout our entire service area, but SAWS works diligently to address damages as they arise to ensure continued access to water and sewage for our customers. SAWS carefully reviews all submitted claims through its dedicated claims process, but as stewards of ratepayer funds, SAWS must evaluate each individual claim on its own merits, including evaluations of liability and damages. When liability and/or damages cannot be substantiated, as was the case with Ms. Patrick’s September 2022 claim, SAWS communicates the claim denial to the customer. The customer can then continue communications with the SAWS claim adjuster if they have any questions or concerns. Ms. Patrick filed a new claim for damages on January 17, 2023, which is still pending and under review by SAWS. As with all submitted claims, SAWS will review and investigate as necessary and communicate directly with Ms. Patrick regarding this new claim.”

As Patrick pointed out, however, multiple water main breaks in front of her home took place prior to 2022.

“I don’t feel like SAWS even really cares to know what the damage is or what the situation was. Somebody just shuffles a piece of paper across their desk that says, ‘Don’t pay a claim,’” said Patrick.

About the Authors

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.

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