Verizon sues city over telephone cable cut in 2003
Company claims almost $160,000 in repair costs

Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Dec. 16, 2004 -- The city of Sulphur Springs is being sued by Verizon Southwest for almost $160,000 over telephone cables that were severed by city workers in 2003.

The civil suit seeking damages of $159,540.52 was filed Tuesday in the 62nd Judicial District Court in Hopkins County.

Service to as many as 3,600 Verizon telephone customers in Sulphur Springs was affected after a city crew working to replace a sewer line on Oak Avenue severed two cables in front of the telephone utility's central office. The cut occurred in July of 2003 and took about a week to repair.

After repairs were made, Verizon turned to the city to cover the costs involved in re-connecting the phone lines. But City Manager Marc Maxwell said he felt the telephone company was asking for more than repairs would cost.

"They submitted a claim for a couple of hundred thousand dollars, which was far more than we think the repairs would cost," Maxwell said. "We think that they actually did quite a bit of rebuilding and are trying to charge that cost to the city."

The damages claimed by Verizon included $21,027 in labor hours, $427 in vehicle expense and the costs of cable and other equipment needed to make the repair, as well as more than $5,000 claimed for loss of use.

The initial damage claim was filed with the Texas Municipal League insurance pool and and was denied.

Jerry Hiersche, of the law firm of Hiersche, Hayward, Drakeley and Urbach Inc. in Dallas, filed the suit on behalf of the telephone company and said his firm and the Verizon had been sending letters to the city in an effort to get the matter resolved.

"Then we sent then a final reminder last week," Hiersche said. "They still didn't respond so we went ahead and filed the law suit."

Maxwell said the filing of the suit was just the start of an effort to resolve the matter, that it was "kind of a beginning," and TML attorneys would be representing the city in the suit.

"The bottom line is we are insured and TML will pay any award or settlement that arises out of this if it comes down to that," he said. "They take it from here."

The attorney said he felt the matter could be handled quickly.

"It's pretty open and shut," he said. "The city interrupted the service through some construction they were doing, and we always thought it would get resolved, and it just never has."

Hiersche called the incident, including the filing of the suit, "unfortunate" and said he hoped his office and TML attorneys could reach a quick agreement.

"It is just unfortunate it's got to be done this way," he said. "I still retain some degree of confidence it will get resolved without protracted proceedings, but we just got to get someone to talk to."

After learning of the severed cables in July of 2003, Maxwell said the accident was the city's fault.

"This one was our fault," he said. "A lot of times we will cut a line and it will have been located in the wrong place and we will end up cutting it, but this time we knew it was there. We were working underwater, we grabbed a section of pipe we were pulling out, and the pipe snagged the line and we caused the problem."

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