KINGWOOD, Texas – What would you do if you were suddenly stuck with a huge bill, all because of someone else’s mistake? It could happen to anyone who hires people to do work at their homes. A desperate homeowner contacted KPRC 2 Investigates after contractors caused thousands of dollars worth of damage and now, she can’t get anyone to help.
Mistakes happen, but when it comes to who is responsible and who should make it right, that depends what side of the fence you are on.
“My heart stopped... I couldn’t breathe,” said Bernadette Hagan. “18,000 is a really big amount to me.’
Bernadette Hagan is stuck with a giant bill that started with a new fence. It’s in her backyard in Kingwood but she does not own it. Because her property backs up to public greenbelts, the fence belongs to the Sherwood Elm Grove Trail Association.
The association hired a contractor to replace the fence last August. Everything seemed fine until months later.
“On Tuesday, December the 6th, I suddenly lost half the power to my house,” said Hagan.
Several experts told Hagan the same thing, the underground electric line was damaged during the fence install.
“I said, well, that’s a long time ago and he said Well, this is what happens. He says if you don’t sever wire completely and you nick it then in about three to six months it will snap, and you will lose the power.”
Repairs to electric line got complicated and very expensive
The kicker, repairs wouldn’t be as easy as just replacing the damaged line.
“My house is an older home. It’s grandfathered into older codes. So, in order for them to legally do the job they have to bring the house up to code,” Hagan explains.
The repair total was $18,293. She couldn’t get the trail association to help and didn’t even know the name of the fence company that did the work, since she did not hire them. With no power, she couldn’t wait so Hagan was forced to finance the whole job.
When repair crews dug up the line you could see the electric wire under the pole and cemented to the pole. They told her this could only have happened when the concrete was poured for the new fence.
Fence company files with insurance company
In April the fence company filed the claim with its insurance to cover the repair costs. But they denied the claim.
“They called me and said that they were denying the claim because they felt that the line marker that the 811 didn’t mark the wrong lines,” explains Hagan.
KPRC 2 Investigative producer Andrea Slaydon tried getting ahold of the fence company, but they never returned the calls. Hagan says a representative told her they explained to the client that they are not responsible for damage to any unmarked utility lines.
But in this case, Hagan is not the client. The client is the trail association.
“Over four months has passed and it’s there’s no resolution and I’ve spent most of that time reaching out to the trails association,” she explains.
After repeated calls and emails the association president (in part) told KPRC 2 News they are,
“Actively working with the relevant parties to resolve this issue and settle any claims for damages caused by the association’s contractor.”
(See full statement below.)
What does the law say about who is responsible for the damage costs?
We did reach out to a homeowner’s rights attorney who said it’s not clear whether the fence company or the trail association who hired them is responsible for Hagan’s damages. But it is clear that Hagan is the only party who didn’t take any action that caused the damage.
In hindsight, Hagan says she wishes she would have taken more photos to show the utility flag markers she remembers in her backyard at the time.
If you are having work done, you should also ask for the names and contact information of contractors, even if you didn’t hire them.
Related: What to do if utility crews leave damage in your yard
Full statement from Sherwood Elm Grove Trail Association:
“The Sherwood Elm Grove Trail Association is actively working with the relevant parties to resolve this issue and settle any claims for damaged caused by the Association’s contractor.
The Association disagrees with the factual background presented below in numerous respects, but because the Association is actively working with the involved parties to resolve this matter, the Board respectfully declines to discuss specific details. The Board respectfully requests that you refrain from publicizing this matter at this time, as this will likely frustrate the parties’ efforts to resolve the matter.”