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ComEd Admits Failed Underground Line Caused Power Outage That Shorted Out Woman's Sump Pumps, But Utility Won't Pay For Damages

LANSING, Ill. (CBS) -- Cathryn Harris' power went out, her sump pumps broke, then her basement flooded - and ComEd admitted the outage was because of a failed underground power line.

But that's not enough to get the utility giant to pay for damages.

CBS 2's Tim McNicholas dug into exactly what it takes for a utility company to pay a consumer.

"It makes me feel sad," Harris said.

Harris' house is now being powered by a generator she had hoped never to see again.

"This is the second time that ComEd has had to come out and bring out their own generator," she said.

The first time was late June. when according to a letter from ComEd, Harris' power went out due to an "underground cable failure."

She said that outage caused another malfunction.

"My sump pumps were shorted out," Harris said.

That sent water gushing into her basement, as south suburban Lansing where she lives got some rain earlier that week.

Harris filed a claim against ComEd for the sump pumps she had to replace and other damages to her property.

"They have admitted they have equipment that failed in the letter, but it's in their contract they're not going to pay for it," Harris said.

ComEd said it "deeply regrets the damage that resulted," and added, "Please accept our apology."

But they won't cover it.

We wondered what the law says when it comes to a utility paying a claim, so we reached out to a utility watchdog."

"We get on average a few cases like this a year," said Jim Chilsen of the Citizens Utility Board.

Chilsen said, in Illinois, companies must pay up if the losses are directly related to an outage that impacts at least 30,000 people for four hours.

That didn't happen in this case, making the waters even murkier.

"This is a terrible case," Chilsen said. "Regardless of what the law says, we always call on a utility to rise to the occasion, and be a good corporate citizen, and see what kind of compensation they can offer the customer."

Harris' neighbor told us off camera that others on the block used to have pesky power problems years ago, before Harris moved in.

The neighbor said she thought those issues were resolved.

And Harris thought her problem was fixed too, after ComEd came out and did some work. But then her power went out this month, so the generator is back.

"They told me, 'Be ready, because this is going to be powering your house for a while,'" Harris said. "It makes me feel as though we're paying for mistakes that ComEd should have caught."

At least this time, her basement didn't flood.

ComEd told us in an email that their service is reliable in that neighborhood, but said they can't talk about Harris' case in specific. They did say that when an equipment failure is not caused by negligence, they're not responsible.

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