Jennifer Ventolino didn't know what was happening last July when her street in Woburn, Massachusetts, was suddenly underwater.
"It was waves like a river, seriously. We had no idea. We didn't know what it was," said Ventolino. "It was when the police came that they told us it was the water main that broke."
"Hours went by, and when they finally shut it off, it completely ruined the inside of our home," she said.
Ventolino says she assumed her renter's insurance would cover her losses. But it didn't, and she's out more than $20,000.
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"We had to buy new mattresses, new couch, new electronics, clothes, toys," said Ventolino. "We had spent money on hotels at the beginning. It never entered my mind that none of this would be covered."
But Ventolino's insurance company denied coverage, saying her policy "excludes water damage that is caused by surface water."
Her landlord's homeowner's policy didn't cover the damage, and Woburn's insurance company also denied her claim, telling her "our investigation … has revealed that our member is not responsible for the damage sustained on 7/28/2020."
"Unfortunately, I have seen this kind of case before," said attorney Samuel Segal, the owner and principal of the Law Offices of Samuel A. Segal in Boston.
Segal says if you're in a situation like this, you can challenge your insurance company's findings, take them to court for breach of contract, or file a claim against the municipality.
"It’s a pretty big uphill climb," said Segal. "The standard is that you have to prove that the municipality was negligent in some way. So you can't just say, 'A water main broke, therefore you should pay my damages.' You have to show that the municipality either did or should have known that there was a problem with this water main and that one of the risks of that problem is that it would burst and flood your property."
Ventolino isn't sure how she'll proceed, but she's angry that she's been left high and dry.
"It's going to be devastating, definitely devastating," said Ventolino. "It's a big hit to take, especially being a single mother. It's going to take a long time to get back on my feet."
The best way to protect yourself is to talk to your insurance company now about water coverage exclusions in your policy and find out what additional coverage is available to you. And if you find a problem on your property or with a nearby water main, report it to your municipality in writing right away. That's the best way to create a record if it affects you in the future.