There is a Satellite in My Sewer Pipe


Marlin E. Buckley, Registered Master Plumber ::::

Case Synopsis: An elderly homeowner purchased television service from one of the major satellite service providers.  As has been successfully done in thousands of similar satellite antenna installations throughout Philadelphia, the installer connected a small diameter pipe bracket to the edge of the soil stack vent with set screws.  Onto this bracket the antenna was fastened.  Months later, the homeowner and guests observed a foul odor throughout the house which they claimed was sewer gas.  It was claimed the antenna was blocking the stack vent, thus causing the sewer gas backup into the house. The homeowner retained counsel to bring suit against the television service.

Expert Analysis: Plaintiff’s expert submitted his curriculum vitae on which his training consisted of a couple non-credit certificate courses; a high school degree seemed to be absent.  Beyond that, he had limited experience in residential renovations. Throughout his two page report, the expert variously referred to this pipe using six different names, including exhaust pipe.  Not once did he use the correct name, stack vent, even though he exhibited portions of the Philadelphia Plumbing Code in his report.

Plaintiff’s expert attempted to explain the function and purpose of this pipe as a means to exhaust deadly sewer gas.  In actuality, the real purpose of this pipe is to maintain the air pressure inside the drainage system.  It primarily serves as a vacuum breaker, thus preventing syphonic action from draining the fixture traps, a problem which plumbers commonly call pulling the trap.

Citing a section from that scholarly journal, Wikipedia, he opined on the composition and nature of sewer gas.

During a subsequent site inspection, access to the roof was obtained for a close-up examination of the stack vent, which plaintiff’s expert admitted he never completed.  A fully closed fist was able to be inserted into the pipe opening. Upon doing so, it was observed that there was clear air space around the fist indicating that there was no blockage.  Calculations determined the antenna bracket was blocking a mere 3% of the pipe opening. Examining the interior of the house with a certified industrial hygienist, we identified at least a dozen other potential sources of the malodor, including plumbing code violations and deficient gas piping.

Result: On the morning of jury selection, the judge favorably signed several motions filed by retaining counsel. The first motion, Motion in Limine, bared plaintiff’s expert and expert report from admission in court. Having no bullets in his gun, plaintiff’s counsel settled for a nominal sum.

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Categories: Case Studies


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