Topeka refuses to pay family whose home flooded with 4 million gallons of water after main break

TOPEKA, Kan. – A broken water main dumped enough water to fill more than six Olympic swimming pools into a Topeka couple’s home and yard.

But Kansas doesn’t have regulations in place about how close pipes can be to a home, and the city isn't taking responsibility for the pipe, built in 1928.

Sarah Kassin said she feels alone and betrayed by the very city she calls home.

“We’re tax-paying citizens. We followed the laws," she said. "This is what you do to people who live in your town? This is what I get? The whole process was devastating, losing your house in a day. It’s not like we even had time to process what was going on.”

Back in August 2014, she heard a trickling sound in the backyard. She and her husband called the city to report a water main break. Crews showed up and worked to turn it off, but Kassin said, “within feet, it literally shot the post right up in the air, right in front of him and it just erupted.”

Her backyard and home took on 4 million gallons of water.

“At that point it was just complete chaos," Kassin said. "Water was filled in the street. It was all over my backyard. We run through the house, and we see it’s very quickly coming into my house and turning into standing water.”

The water destroyed clothes, books -- just about everything the Kassins owned.

Little did they know that August day was the first of a nearly four-year legal battle that would end in a judge ruling this month for the city, claiming the couple failed to prove negligence or provide evidence.

The couple said they spent nearly $40,000 documenting everything and hiring specialists: an engineer, a mold specialist and an appraiser. Add to that the cost of all they owned and a home that’s a total loss, and they’re out about $138,000 so far. At last appraisal, they were told the home was valued at negative $6,800, and they’re still paying homeowners insurance.

“There were a few select people from the city who were kind," Kassin said. "And then after that, one of them even told us, ‘I can’t talk to you anymore.’ So we felt that we were just very much shut off, and at that point we knew it was going to have to be lawyer to lawyer.”

Sarah Kassin

The couple won’t receive a cent from the City of Topeka. Kassin said that coldness, that lack of concern, hurts almost as much as losing everything.

“Now that they gave the ruling, I can say, 'This is what happened to me. This can happen to you too,'" she said. "And it’s not OK, and it’s not right, and I want the city to know I’m not just going to shut up and go away. It’s not OK.”

The Kassins can still appeal until the middle of next month, but the couple said they can’t afford it. Homeowners insurance didn’t cover this, they said, because the pipe that burst was outside the home.

The City of Topeka said it would be willing to share its side of the story after the appeal window closes.

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