In Your Corner: Did Deafness Lead To Sewer Dispute?

By Ryan Elijah

February 25, 2011 Updated Feb 25, 2011 at 11:30 AM EDT

Just over a year ago, Nipsco hired a contractor to relocate gas main required for a road improvement project on Cook Road. Shortly after that, Tim and Kathleen Schriver smelled a sewer odor and it turned out their sewer line was damaged.

The Schriver's hired A-1 Sewer to do the repairs, the deaf couple said they were quoted $800 to fix the damage, but the final bill was over $3500. They say they were told to pay the bill and then get their money from Nipsco.

"we were under the impression that A-1 had negotiated with Nipsco and that things would work out, so there really was no communication", said Kathleen Schriver through an interpreter.

Nipsco hired their own company to fix the damage and the Schriver's were pleased with the work. However, the bill from A-1 didn't go away and the Schriver's refused to pay it. In April, A-1's owner filed a mechanic's lean against the Schriver's Home.

A-1's owner told INC that he's only filed a few mechanic's lien's in the past 20 years and he feels strongly that the charges billed to the Schriver's are justified.
He also said in addition to the $3500 bill, he's accumulated another $3500 in legal fees from being sued.

Since we first approached Nipsco and A-1 in November about the Schriver's bill, it became clear the attorney fees would be a problem. Nipsco offered to pay the bill for the Schriver's, but there's a question about whether the work was done correctly and how much it should have cost.

"we didn't want the customer to be in the middle, so we made the repairs and we're still involved, but both sides have attorneys", said Larry Graham, Manager of Communications and Public Affairs for Nipsco.

While the Schriver's did take their complaint to the Better Business Bureau, A-1, has an A+ rating with the agency. The Americans with Disabilities Act does require some private companies to provide a sign language interpreter, it falls under "reasonable accommodations" under Title III of the ADA.

A-1 feels the the language barrier wasn't a factor and blames the Schriver's for suing. They say the estimate went up because the damage was more extensive than first thought. The Schriver's dispute that and say the 13-month ordeal is taking a toll.

"I want whoever is responsible to take care of it, whether that's Nipsco or the city, we just want it taken care of. We feel that work was done on our property and we were thrown under the bus.", said Tim Schriver, through an interpreter.

Few would dispute the Schriver's shouldn't be stuck with a bill for a problem they didn't cause. We're hopeful that all parties will find a solution, but it's clear the whole gets deeper as the attorney fees continue to mount.

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