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Technical Papers

Liability for damage due to water main breaks or leaks

Abstract

The topics of liability and negligence as they relate to water main failures are discussed from both a historical and current viewpoint. The historical perspective is provided in a 1948 Journal AWWA article, and we consider changes in liability issues from that time to the present. Case studies from various states are also presented that will provide water utilities insights into sovereign immunity and what constitutes discretionary function.

Some of the key findings for water utilities were: that they should understand the laws and relevant legal decisions in their state because each state has its own laws related to how immunity is determined; that even immunity, in some states and or cases may not be the final determining factor that can relieve them from liability for breaks and leaks; that they should implement a written policy or plan to address deteriorating infrastructure; and that they should keep accurate and comprehensive records.

Authors

  • Frank J. Blaha, P.E., Senior Account Manager, Water Research Foundation
  • Peter E. Gaewski, P.E., Retired
  • Paul R. McCary, J.D., Partner, Murtha Cullina LLP
  • Graham T. Coates, J.D., Associate, Murtha Cullina LLP