Baltimore officials have agreed to pay a woman more than $172,000 after she endured 10 sewage backups in her house over five years.
Baltimore’s spending panel approved the payment Wednesday to settle a lawsuit brought by Stacia Vaughn, 57, against the city. Vaughn, who lives in Northwest Baltimore, filed suit in 2016 reporting that she had “sustained property damage due to multiple sewage backups.”
According to the Board of Estimates, sewage backed up into Vaughn’s home in 2013, 2014, four times in 2015, 2016, and three times in 2017.
“As a result of the multiple sewage backups, the Plaintiff sustained damage to her personal and real property,” city lawyers wrote to board members. “In order to resolve this litigation as economically as possible, and to avoid the expense, time, and uncertainties of further protracted litigation, the City has agreed to pay, and the Plaintiff has agreed to accept, $172,246.95, for complete settlement of the case, including attorney’s fees.”
More than a dozen times a day, on average, a Baltimore sewer main rejects the waste residents have flushed down toilets and washed down drains, sending it back into basements, an investigation by The Baltimore Sun found in 2016.
Public works crews responded to nearly 5,000 reports of sewage in city basements in 2015 alone, according to data the city provided to The Sun. But figures from the city's 311 call center suggest the total number of backups is much higher. Residents had reported more than 7,500 backups since February 2015, though the city is not legally responsible for many of them.
Backups can set homeowners back thousands of dollars — costs the city frequently had refused to cover — and repeated problems can prompt insurance companies to cancel policies or deny claims.
Last year, the city approved a $1.6 billion plan to rehabilitate Baltimore’s aged sewer system and stop wastewater from leaking into the Inner Harbor by 2030.
The consent agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency included a new financial assistance program from the city offering at least $2 million a year to cover cleanup costs when sewage backs up into homes.