Who Is Responsible for Damage Caused by a Water Main Break?

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: January 16, 2023

A water main breaks. It could be the city’s aging infrastructure or botched maintenance. A geyser floods your driveway, leaves pot holes in the yard and floods the basement. Somebody has to take care of the mess.

Who is responsible for damage caused by a water main break?

We don’t fix broken city water mains, but we can answer your questions about this municipal mishap. As Chicago’s largest water damage restoration company, we know how it happens, who’s responsible and what you can do when it impacts your home or business.

Who Is Responsible for the Water Main?

The responsibility for maintaining a city’s water distribution system belongs to the municipality. Here in Chicago, the Department of Water Management takes care of more than 9,000 miles of subterranean lines.

water main break on chicago, il road
Image: Mark Taylor / Flickr / cc by SA 2.0

Water distribution systems operate much the same in cities across the nation. An underground network delivers water to service pipes that supply homes and businesses.

The city’s responsibility for a water main ends at the meter between the main line and the supply line.

Property owners are responsible for supply lines into their homes or businesses.

Who Is Responsible for Water Main Damage?

The answer depends on where the damage occurs. Damage to streets and curbs caused by a main break are the city’s responsibility. Damaged supply lines and property are the property owner’s responsibility.

In some instances, a municipality might be considered liable. For example, if a city employee’s actions caused a main break that flooded private property, the city might be responsible. In cases of shoddy repairs performed by a private contractor, the city could be held liable.

sewer backup in chicago, il business
If you experience sewer backup due to a broken water main, you are likely liable for the damages.

In most situations, municipal liability for damages from a broken water main end at the meter between the main line and the supply line. From that point on, the property owner is responsible for taking care of damages.

What Causes Water Mains to Break?

In many large cities, water main breaks are often the result of aging infrastructure. For example, some portions of Chicago’s system date back to the 1900s. Cast iron and concrete components become brittle and break down. However, old age isn’t the only reason municipal water mains develop problems.

• Corrosion and rust buildup blocks pipes.

• Freezing temperatures result in burst mains.

• Excavation work accidentally damages lines.

• Settling soil shifts and causes cracks in water mains.

• Sudden changes in water pressure rupture main lines.

corroded water main system
Corroded water main pipes can lead to water main breaks

How Do I Know If My Water Main Is Broken?

It’s not always as dramatic as a water spout in the middle of the street. Areas affected by a water main break can be spread over several neighborhoods. These are common signs of a broken water main.

  • Wet curbs, sidewalks and foundations
  • Swampy or sunken spots in front yards
  • Unpleasant odors from outside drains
  • Sudden drops in water pressure
  • Complete loss of water supply
  • Unusual increase in water bills

What Can I Do About a Broken Water Main?

There are three essential steps you need to take when the water main breaks:

  1. Clear your home’s plumbing system.
  2. Call your insurance company.
  3. Contact a water damage restoration service.

You should also call the city water department. Here in Chicago, you can check with the DWM.

water on sidewalk

Ask about the health status of your drinking water, general safety in the main break area and how long repairs may take. If you need to hire a plumber to work on your supply line, check back with the city about any permits that might be necessary.

Is Broken Water Main Damage Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

Flooding resulting from a broken water main isn’t usually covered by homeowners insurance. Most policies only cover damage caused by problems in the supply line on your side of the water meter.

You might consider buying additional insurance for events like flooding from a water main break. It’s best to discuss coverage details with your insurance agent. An experienced water damage restoration company can also help you understand liability issues and assist you with the claims process.

Dealing With Water Damage From a Broken Main in Chicago, IL? We Can Help

Property damage from a broken water main ranges from flooded basements and ruined subflooring to wet carpets and moldy drywall. We take care of everything, and we handle repairs too.

When the city’s water main floods your home or business, you want the best water damage restoration services in Chicago. Call us here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba: 773-647-1985.

How long do water main repairs usually take?

In general, the city can fix a broken main the same day. Often, repairs are completed in four or five hours. It depends on the location and size of the break.

Why is my tap water brown after a water main break?

A break in the water main stirs up accumulated sediment and minerals in the pipe. The discoloration usually clears up in an hour or two after flushing your lines.

Is it safe to drink tap water before a water main break is repaired?

It’s best to wait until after repairs are completed and you’ve flushed your property’s water supply. Call the city’s water department to be sure.