UCLA Flood: LA's DWP faces a deluge of liability claims

Water begins to recede in the lower levels of a parking garage that was flooded after a water main ruptured on Sunset Boulevard near the UCLA campus. Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

UCLA officials say their campus sustained tens of millions of dollars in damages this week when a water pipe burst under Sunset Boulevard.  The flood of water may have damaged as many as 900 cars in the university's underground garages. With so many damage reports, how much liability will be assigned to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power? 

DWP officials have encouraged anyone with property damaged by Tuesday's flood to file a claim. However, that process isn't always a smooth one. When a water main broke at Coldwater Canyon five years ago, Rick Walken's restaurant, Il Tramezzino, took on more than a foot of water, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. 

"They basically had to demolish everything up to four feet high in the whole restaurant. Everything. The floor, the walls, food, dry goods, everything had to be thrown out," Walken said. 

The restaurant was closed for three months for repairs. Walken tried to file a claim with the DWP to cover those costs. 

"I tried contacting the DWP. They never, ever talked to me once," he said. 

Walken's insurance company ultimately covered the claim, and then sought reimbursement from the DWP. That was just one of more than 85 claims filed by residents, business owners and insurance companies after the Coldwater Canyon water main break.

Back then, utility officials said ratepayers would have to shoulder the cost of claims. This time, a DWP spokeswoman says the utility has insurance - though officials aren't sure how much it will cover.

Walken has some advice for the hundreds of car owners whose vehicles may have been destroyed in the UCLA flood. 

"Good luck trying to get the DWP. I would say that your best bet is to deal with your insurance company," Walken said. 

Walken actually co-owns a restaurant on the UCLA campus, not far from where that pipe burst Tuesday. But unlike five years ago, the restaurant was untouched by the flood.