Liability for Cutting Phone Line

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Old 05-23-08, 01:37 PM
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Liability for Cutting Phone Line

I live in a somewhat rural part of Colorado and did a major league whoops. The fence around my place was in terrible shape so I decided to replace some of it. I didn't call for line location since I was digging out existing holes to replace the old fence. My place has some ancient DIY irrigation of black PVC so I wasn't too surprised to see something black down the hole.

It was a horrible feeling to look further and see the little wires inside. The phone people were out and fixed it and I'm looking at a major bill. I took pictures of it when they trenched it out. The line was buried 11 inches deep and was exactly on the existing fence line. A previous owner had put it in and I have no idea how it wasn't cut then. He must have dug the hole with a garden trowel, not a post hole digger.

I'm not thrilled about paying. If it had been new construction I would have called. Are there any sites where I can better understand my liabilities?

Steve
 
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Old 05-23-08, 03:01 PM
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In New York state there can be penalties attached even to a mistake. If CO has a similar regulation I have to believe they won't pursue it because you weren't doing any new digging.

Maybe you'll find out at CO's Dig Safe site: http://www.uncc2.org/web/

Ironically, May is "Dig Safe" Month.
 
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Old 05-23-08, 03:49 PM
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new construction or not you need to call before you dig (as you found out )

Ive been doing my fence in segments and I call before each section even though I know exactly where the lines are

its free and it covers you for I believe two weeks
Whether you are planning to do it yourself or hire a professional, smart digging means calling 811 before each job. Homeowners often make risky assumptions about whether or not they should get their utility lines marked, but every digging job requires a call Ė even small projects like planting trees and shrubs. Read More...
http://www.call811.com/
 
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Old 05-23-08, 04:10 PM
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Was this a main trunk or the drop to your house?
 
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Old 05-23-08, 07:17 PM
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I feel your pain. I recently replaced a portion of my fence and found that the main cable tv line was only 3 inches below grade and not in conduit.....

Luckily I managed to miss it somehow....but would have been my fault.
 
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Old 05-23-08, 08:05 PM
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the old joke around here among installers is to lay the phone drop on the ground and kick a little sand over it

both my CATV line and Telephone line are exposed in some places in my yard
 
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Old 05-24-08, 08:38 AM
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I'm sure I'm going to feel the pain since it was a neighborhood run. It did a bend in from the road and went a ways into my yard, directly under the old fence. I'll have to check the utility easements since it has to be a ways from the road. I don't recall any such easement notification when I bought it. They normally have 15 feet from the road or a marked utility easement 15 feet from the property line. The person who installed that was lucky since there's no way that was checked out. When the phone guys came, there even turned out to be a phone box about 50 yards down the road. It was totally hidden by bushes.

Steve
 
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Old 05-24-08, 09:07 AM
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So, as it stands, you most likely are liable for the bill to repair BUT if the line is not within any legal easement, you can demand they move it.

sounds like a stalement to me.

Maybe a little negotiation is called for.
 
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Old 05-24-08, 10:09 AM
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Can't say for sure but they might have an utility easement between properties.
 
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Old 05-24-08, 10:40 AM
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Originally Posted by CrufflerSteve View Post
I don't recall any such easement notification when I bought it.
such notification is often written within the deed simply as:

subject to all leins, easements, and restrictions of public record.

that would mean if there was an easement granted at some time, then your ownership of the property is subject to that easement. You may have to work hard to actually find the document containing the grant itself though.
 
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Old 05-24-08, 11:44 AM
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Ask your telephone company

The telephone company should have a record of the right of way. In the areas that I work for Verizon, WV & MD, our right of ways are on the Routes & Plate's. Any technician would be able to tell you where the right of way is, who gave it, if it is written or verbal, and when...........

As far as liability goes, in this area you would be technicially responsible for the damage, although we normally don't charge a land owner who was digging on their own property if they cut a drop or cable. If it is someone who digs professionally like a landscaper, excavator, or other utility then we charge them because they should have known better.
 
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Old 05-24-08, 02:57 PM
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If you don't mind me asking, how much $ was the bill? Just curious to know the ball park if I was to do such a thing.
 
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Old 05-26-08, 03:09 PM
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I got back from the weekend and found a bill for a bit more than $1400 for slicing a 50 pair line. Ouch! I'll contest it a bit but its not worth lawyering up to fight it. Maybe they have a payment plan.

I do have a few points. I recently did some major work on the house. I know the exact location of every line coming to my house and barn. The cut was in a field over 100 yards from any building. Because of my recent work I have details of my property from the county. I have the standard 10 foot utility easement from all roads. My fence is over 20 feet back from the road at this point. The line was actually severed 28 feet from the road. The telephone box down the road is within the 10 foot easement so the original line guys must have laid this after a liquid lunch. There are special utility easements in my neighborhood but my property has none. I don't know if this will fly with the phone company but its worth a try.

At least I didn't hit a major trunk. I used to work for a long distance company and they had a special outage code: FSBE, pronounced Fizz Bee, Fiber Seeking Backhoe Event.

Steve
 
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Old 05-26-08, 04:32 PM
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I don't blame you for trying to get the bill cut a bit but the fact remains had you called before you dug you wouldn't be looking at a 1400 bill

my BIL had a similar situation , but he had called and they hadn't marked a cable in the area where he dug and cut it took down his whole subdivision as I recall
 
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Old 05-26-08, 04:34 PM
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Originally Posted by CrufflerSteve View Post

I used to work for a long distance company and they had a special outage code: FSBE, pronounced Fizz Bee, Fiber Seeking Backhoe Event.
I love it.


If you are positive the line was not even close to an easement, I would call the phone company and tell them that. I would argue your case that since there was not an easement that allowed a line anywhere close, a locator would have missed it as well since they are not going to walk your entire property.

If it were me, I would simply tell them they have 10 days to remove the line from the property. After that, permission to enter your property is revoked and any entry after that time would be considered tresspassing. I would also tell them that I intend on trenching around the entire perimeter of my property and the line would be damaged again and since they had failed to remove it and place it where it was legally allowed to be, I accept no liability.

After that, if no success, I would ask for the name of the person the states public service commission should contact regarding this issue since as a public service company, they are under the oversight of the PSC and since I would be making a complaint to them, I figured to hasten the process, I would also supply the name of the person in the phone companty that would be dealing with this.

(Companies like this do not like me. I wonder why)
 
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Old 05-26-08, 06:07 PM
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post back and let us know how it turns out
 
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Old 05-26-08, 09:06 PM
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we hit a phone co toll line with a drill rig once after calling okie (our one call system) they wanted to know why we hit it and i told them we called and your locate service came out and drove around with out talking to us so we belived that you had nothing in the area. that line was rated at 75,000 a min but woops they could not bill us as was their falt for not marking it.
murphy was an optimist
 
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Old 12-12-10, 07:34 AM
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Here's an update 2 1/2 years later. I dug through the documents of my subdivision and found some agreements signed with Ma Bell and other utilities over 40 years ago. All roads were agreed to have 20' utility easements along every road and other marked out areas through properties. There are quite a few marked out areas. There is one across my property far from the cut used by the water company. When we bought the house we got the map. There's the usual clause that anything goes for residence hookups.

The fence I was redoing was 30 to 40' from the road. I had a lawyer write a letter with copies of these documents. It's been over 1 1/2 years and have heard nothing. I don't know if it is over or just waiting in someone's file.

Steve
 
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Old 12-12-10, 09:54 AM
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Originally Posted by CrufflerSteve View Post
The fence I was redoing was 30 to 40' from the road. I had a lawyer write a letter with copies of these documents. It's been over 1 1/2 years and have heard nothing. I don't know if it is over or just waiting in someone's file.
While your strategy may be to avoid confrontation in dealing w/ a 50 pair phone line crossing your property so long as the phone co. is not insisting on you repaying them for the damaged cable, you might want to consider another angle. While it may vary across the states, the courts in FL have consistently ruled that when a utilityís multi-customer cable is situated on a personís property for a long number of years (e.g., 10 yrs.) even though itís not properly placed in a dedicated easement, they have ruled in favor of the utility. The legal theory is similar to where the public (or an adjacent resident) has had unfettered use of a personís private road for a long number of years, and that undisputed use over many years eventually conveys a right to use it.

The potential problem you (or someone buying your property) may face is a restriction against building any structure near this underground line. Here in FL, its unlawful to build structure or to place plants within a dedicated utility easement, and local building codes add set backs from these easements if wanting to add a building to the property (e.g., out building, shed, etc.). It may not surface since it canít be seen although you probably have a legal obligation to disclose its existence if selling the property. Because of the paper trail which has been created by the utility and your attorney, it would be fairly easy to prove you had knowledge of this cable should you elect not to disclose this to a future buyer. The phone co. has probably decided it has more to gain by not vigorously pursuing collection of the $1,400 claim rather than risk a ruling that could force them to move the cable off of your property. They see time as being on their side if they can leave this cable where it is.
 
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Old 12-12-10, 08:45 PM
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Rob,

I see your point. I did this to see if it would make them lose interest since my payment would have involved a demand they remove it and follow their agreement with the community.

I just never thought of calling since I was replacing very old fence using the exact same locations. The metal posts were totally rusted and the wood posts were deeply weathered and rotten so the 'adverse posession' or whatever it is called would be quite muddy. A fence might not be a structure but it is use.

I'm not ignorant of checking. When I bought the house I had a place where a split rail fence would have been great. I staked out the prospective post holes and called. Every single one was on a gas or electric or both so that fence was never built. The first part of the wire cut was new fence and those stakes were cleared before I dug. The last part was the replacement of bad fence posts. I just never thought that with existing fence and a map of utility easements that this would happen. I'm expecting a collection agency to show up one day but I'll wait and see,

Steve
 
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Old 12-13-10, 06:34 AM
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Steve, I can't offer more than Rob already did, but sympathy. I had a job at our local college to build a deck on an existing building. So as SOP I called 800-282-7411...got it memorized. Every utility came out and painted their lines. I had every utility imaginable in a 14' x 40' area, all criss crossed....gas, electric, cable, water. Water crew missed theirs by 4', and I came within an inch of penetrating a 2" main. Luckily the indicator wire spun up first. It looked like a mine field. We had to hand dig most of the footings. At the end, the GC asked us to move a footing back to accommodate steps. No problem......except for the fiber optic cable. Cut it clean!!! Oddly it wasn't marked and the utility apologized to me for not marking it. Heck, they were the ones who had to spend 2 hours in the August sun splicing it!
Good luck with your quest, and I hope it all washes.
 
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