So You Don’t Need to Say, “I Told You So.”

By Jim vonMeier
People say it is childish and immature to tell someone “I told you so,” but it can feel good to be able to say it—not, however, when it comes to accidents involving septic tanks or cesspools.
About three or four years ago, I devoted an entire article to cesspool and septic tank safety (and I have mentioned it several times since).  The article was centered upon a man in Long Island who had his 34 year-old cesspool treated with acid.  A few days later, he was walking across his backyard and suffered chemical burns.  In the article, I also mentioned several cases of children dying in septic tanks when the lids/risers were damaged or not secured. 
I suggested that when you, the septic professional, come across a dangerous situation, you should inform the property owner of the hazard, what and who is at risk, and what your suggested solution is.  If the homeowner refuses to repair the problem, you should have him or her sign a waiver stating that you provided a warning about the danger and that he or she is refusing to act on correcting the imminent hazard.  This precaution could save you from a potential lawsuit in the future.
Lawsuits are time consuming and can get ugly. I provide the following advice to people who contact me wanting to sue someone (a contractor, property seller, real estate agent, the county, etc.) when they have a septic problem:  use the courts as a last resort; try to work it out first.  There are times, however, when a lawsuit is well deserved—for example, when a totally innocent person is harmed because of someone else’s negligence…and you do not find anyone more innocent than a child.   
Children look to adults for more than food and a roof over their heads; they depend upon us to keep them safe. Children are unable to readily recognize potential dangers.—especially the dangers of a septic tank or cesspool—and unless the adults take steps to protect the little ones, it is a recipe for the unthinkable.                
Last week, I had an attorney contact me.  He is representing a family that lost their three-year old son in a neighbor’s septic tank, which had a damaged riser.  The child either fell in accidentally or thought it would be a great place to hide.  The riser/cover was required by the county for easy inspections.  And because it was not protected by some type of barrier, it had been damaged when a visitor hit it with a car. Because it was not required, it did not have a safety net installed in the riser; and apparently, no one bothered to inform the homeowner of the danger of someone falling into this tank. As such, it was not repaired in a timely manor. 
Now, with millions of dollars at stake, something may get done.  In all likelihood, the county is going to get blamed for not adding into their regulations that all risers must have safety measures in place; i.e., a barrier to protect the riser from outside (vehicular) damage, a safety net in the riser, some type of cover structure to discourage unauthorized entry, etc. 
The manufacturer and distributors will be named for not providing (at the very least) the safety nets.  The contractor who installed the riser will be held accountable, and I would assume the property owner is going to be held accountable as well—all because some adults did not think this one through. 
I just landscaped over my septic tank because I am going to enter into an annual inspection program with my septic pumper.  I put patio blocks around the tank to keep my son from running over it with my riding lawn mower.  I put fake rocks over the riser to keep the little ones from wondering what is under that green lid. 
But here is something I found hard to fathom: when I got my lid and riser, there was not a safety net included.  Believe it or not, I had to call Sim-Tech directly to buy it because I could not find one at any of the local distributors.  It cost me $40 and took about ten minutes to install.  I certainly do not want someone telling me, “I told you so.”  To me, it would be more than being sued…it would be knowing that my negligence killed an innocent child.     
While I understand that many individuals do not want to spend the money, I know that they will be willing to incur the cost if you explain the possible repercussions.  Every year, several children and adults die when they fall in a septic tank or cesspool—despite the fact that you seldom see it on the evening news.  But I have stacks of these news clippings.  All you have to do is show a homeowner a few of these, follow with the waiver, and they will make the right decision—to incur the expense.  If not, you may need to tell them, “I told you so.”

Jim vonMeier performs educational programs directed at homeowners teaching them the health and environmental need for proper septic systems and how to find a certified septic professional to inspect/design/install/maintain their systems.  He has also represented homeowners in their fight against public sewer projects and speaks at contractor certification courses around the country on the subject of customer service. 

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