After handling any sizeable amount of subrogation claims involving water damage, you may have asked yourself, “why is the insured always on vacation when a loss occurs?” In fact, most of the loss descriptions on the Notice of Loss will start with the sentence, “The insured was on vacation when…” It seems by a superficial look that whether the insured leaves the home for a weekend getaway or long vacation that is the time the water loss will occur. While coincidence and cosmic phenomenon may play a role, there are more practical reasons for these events.
A large portion of water losses involve a failed water line. The causes of these losses range from improper installation, material defects, surges in water pressure, etc. While water pressure surges may be rare occurrences, these others are not. Whether the insured is at home or not, water is always flowing through the plumbing and adding pressure to the water lines, hoses, filters, etc. If a water line is improperly installed or there is a defect in the material of the water line or its connections, the water line is bound to fail at some point in time. Of course the most obvious reason for the loss is that the insured was not at home to observe any imminent issues with the water line and preempt significant water damage. When the water line fails while the insured is at home, the insured has ample opportunity to turn off the water and have the water line repaired. Water line failures do otherwise seem relatively opportunistic.
In reviewing failed water line loss, the primary targets for liability are the third party installers, plumbers, maintenance workers, product manufacturers, and negligent users. However, with the idea that the occupants are often away from the home when the losses occur, there is a potential liability claim against the occupants for failing to turn off the water before a long trip away. Some lease agreements and homeowner association policies advise occupants to turn the water off in the residence if the occupants will be away for a period of time (usually longer than 3 days). These types of policies recognize the potential water issues that may arise while the occupants are away and places some responsibility on them to adhere to the rules and prevent potential property damage. These policies are more prevalent in condominium complexes. Reliance on such policies is not a guarantee of subrogation recovery, but one avenue to investigate.