Extensive Experience Winning Settlements for Water Damage Claims
Claims for water damage are among the most complicated types of property claims to handle. All insurance policies cover loss by fire or windstorm, but not all insurance policies provide the same coverage for water damage or freezing pipes.
The issues that arise are vast:
- Was the loss caused by flood or surface water?
- Was it a sewer back up or an accidental discharge from a plumbing system?
- Was the damage a result of water or sewage?
- Was the overflow of the drain on the premises or off the premises?
- Was the pipe concealed in the wall leaking for more or less than 14 days?
For freezing claims, the issues include:
- What caused the pipe to freeze?
- Did the insured use reasonable care to maintain heat in the building?
- Was the building vacant or unoccupied prior to the loss?
- What percentage of the commercial building was actually in use?
Rutter & Russin has extensive experience fighting insurance companies to settle water and freezing claims, as evidenced by these representative cases:
The insurance company agreed to insure an inventory of cigars for over $1 million, but when a water loss rendered the cigars a pile of smelly tobacco, the carrier argued that the cigars were not worth as much as they had been insured for. Rutter & Russin pursued an appraisal under the terms of the insurance policy, resulting in the insurance company paying over $1 million to resolve the case.
A Cleveland property owner had allowed his commercial building to deteriorate to the point where the sprinkler system froze, burst, and flooded his neighbor's business, causing a multimillion-dollar loss of business. The property owner argued that he had turned the property maintenance over to a tenant, so that liability rested with the tenant, not the property owner. Of course, the deadbeat tenant had never paid rent, had eventually been evicted, and was nowhere to be found. Following a lawsuit against the property owner, the case settled for a confidential sum.
A boiler in an old Cleveland warehouse malfunctioned, preventing heat from reaching a seldom-used section of the building. During the next week some water pipes froze and split. When the weather warmed over the weekend and the pipes thawed, water ran and did substantial damage before the owner discovered the problem on Monday. The insurance company denied the claim, asserting that the insured had not used reasonable care to maintain heat in the building. A jury disagreed, finding that the insured had no reason to anticipate that the boiler would malfunction and that the owner had used due care.
State Farm had already denied the homeowner's claim before Rutter & Russin became involved. The insurer contended that the frozen pipes were the result of the insured's own negligence in failing to maintain heat in a house that was unoccupied and up for sale. Working with the real estate agent, an HVAC expert, and a plumbing contractor, Rutter & Russin proved that a prospective buyer had inspected the furnace and not properly replaced the furnace door, thereby activating a safety feature that prevented the furnace from functioning. State Farm reversed its decision and paid the claim in full prior to the filing of a lawsuit.
The primary support beam of a century-old building gave way, leading to substantial roof damage and water infiltration. The insurance company denied the claim asserting the "wear and tear" exclusion. After a lawsuit was filed Rutter & Russin established that the "wear and tear" exclusion was inapplicable and that the loss came within the scope of the policy's "collapse" coverage, leading to full payment of the claim.
A severe rainstorm overwhelmed the storm drain system in a Summit County neighborhood. The insured's house fronted a lake and was the lowest point in the neighborhood, so the storm drain system was designed to carry water through an underground pipe that ran around the insured's house. When the system overflowed, a river of water rushed through the insured's house causing significant damage. The carrier denied the claim, asserting that the damage constituted a flood and was excluded by the policy. Rutter & Russin analyzed the policy and the facts, and successfully argued that an exception to the water exclusion applied. The case was favorably resolved at a mediation.
The insured's century building was for rent, and a real estate agent was showing prospective tenants the unoccupied property, which had been a bank for many years. One of the prospective tenants must have turned on the bathroom faucet upstairs to see if it worked, and then not turned it off tightly enough. A slow drip filled up the sink due to a clogged drain, and the sink overflowed. Over the course of several days, the slow drip resulted in extensive water damage throughout the interior of the building until the real estate arrived to show the building again. The insurance company tried everything—the vacancy exclusion, the exclusion for leaks that exist for more than 14 days, the water exclusion, the faulty workmanship exclusion—but in the end Rutter & Russin convinced the carrier that none of the exclusions applied and that the claim was covered. The insured had the building completely remodeled to the specifications of the new tenant.
During the sub-freezing temperatures brought by the "polar Vortex" in early 2014, the plumbing lines in the insureds' unoccupied duplex house ruptured and caused water to flood the home. Before the problem was discovered, the water that escaped from the pipes soaked the house and then froze solid, turning the building into an igloo. The insurer left our clients out in the cold when it denied the claim, asserting no coverage was available because the insureds failed to use reasonable care to maintain heat in the building. Rutter & Russin analyzed the insurance policy and uncovered critical facts supporting coverage that resulted in the insurer paying over $350,000 to resolve the claim.