What if my insurance company wrote me a long letter explaining they are not required to replace my cast iron pipes?

To be blunt, you should ignore that letter and let us review your denial for free. Every cast iron pipe case we have won started with the insurance company saying that they did not have to pay to replace the plumbing.

In other words, “No” is not the end of the inquiry--it is just the beginning.

If your case meets our criteria, we will inspect your house and your plumbing at no cost to you. If your insurance company is wrong, we will tell you how we can help.

You pay nothing unless we win. In most cases, we can force your insurance company to pay our attorneys’ fees if/when we win.

What if my insurance company hired an engineer or plumber who said my cast iron pipes were not the cause of the water damage?

Even if your insurance company hired an engineer or plumber who said your cast iron pipes were not the cause of your damage, we will review your denial for free.

In almost all of the cast iron pipe cases we have won, the insurance company hired an engineer or plumber who said the loss was not covered.

If your case meets our criteria, we will inspect your house and your plumbing with no cost to you. If your insurance company is wrong, we will tell you how we can help.

What can cause water damage?

Water damage claims are among the most common—and costly—homeowners insurance claims.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, water damage losses are the second most frequent and third most severe type of homeowner loss. Roughly 20-30% of all property damage is caused by water.

Sources of water damage include:
• Broken, leaking, and frozen pipes
• Overflowing/clogged toilet
• Sewer backups
• Blocked gutters
• Water heaters
• Dishwashers and washing machines

Around 1 in 55 insured homes has a water damage claim each year. Serious water damage can easily cause losses in the tens of thousands of dollars.

If your insurance company denies coverage or underpays your claim, you could be left with a large bill for repairs and replacement. It’s within your rights, however, to dispute an insurer decision that you believe is unfair.

Can I prevent water damage?

Just like routine healthcare helps you avoid more serious illnesses, preventative home maintenance can ensure that a small problem doesn’t turn into a disaster.

Some water damage occurs with no advanced warning. A pipe or washing machine hose could burst, a toilet could backup and overflow, or the roof could be damaged and start leaking.

Insurance companies usually cover water damage that is sudden and accidental, but most won’t cover damage that occurs over a period of several days or from a maintenance issue, normal wear and tear, or homeowner neglect. In fact, most home insurance policies state that the homeowner must make reasonable and necessary repairs to protect the property.

Fortunately, there are a number of measures homeowners can take to prevent water damage. According to ACE Private Risk Services, 93% of the cost of water damage could be prevented by an automatic water leak detection and shut-off system, which turns off water flow the moment a leak is detected.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety encourages homeowners to regularly inspect and maintain plumbing components and offers some easy ways to avoid water damage, including keeping a close eye on your water bills, pipes, toilets, and appliances and performing upkeep as needed.

When in doubt, always contact a professional plumber.

What are some of the common effects of water damage?

Even a small amount of water can cause serious damage to your home.

Depending on the severity and location of the water damage, building materials, flooring, furniture, and personal items can require drying/dehumidifying, cleaning, repair or replacement. Water can also cause mold problems and become unsanitary, possibly contributing to health issues.

Experts use a couple of different methods to classify water damage. The first is according to water quality, ranging from clean to unsanitary to grossly contaminated. Most water originates from supply lines, tubs and sinks, appliances, and other sanitary sources, but water (particularly sewage water) can also contain chemical additives, pathogens, and other harmful agents. The longer water is left in place, the dirtier and more dangerous it becomes.

Water damage is also classified based on the amount of water, materials affected, and expected evaporation rate. Class 1 water damage involves a small amount of water that affects a limited area and low porosity materials, while Class 4 is a specialty drying situation involving deep water saturation and nonporous materials.

Water damage cleanup often costs $10,000-$30,000 or more. Water cleanup and restoration service Servpro describes the water damage restoration process, from inspection and water removal to drying, sanitizing, and repairs.

What should I do after a water leak?

You’ll want to try and limit the damage until a professional arrives. This is critical to a potential homeowners insurance claim because most policies state that the insured has a duty to protect the property and prevent further loss. Homeowners also have a duty to promptly notify the insurance company in the event of a covered loss. Failing to take either of these steps could result in a claim denial.

In the event of a water leak, you should try to stop the flow as soon as possible by shutting off the main water valve. After that, do what you can to clean the water up and prevent it from creating additional damage. Wipe excess water from items, move wet items to a dry area, and use fans to circulate air and encourage drying. If the cleanup is beyond what you can handle, get in touch with a restoration service company. You may also need to hire a plumber to fix the cause of the leak.

The same guidelines apply to a plumbing leak. Try to contain and clean up the situation as best you can and wear protective gear to avoid contamination. Clear and dispose of waste and wastewater, get the affected items out of harm’s way and into fresh air, sanitize the area with a bleach solution, and use fans and dehumidifiers to disperse remaining moisture and odors. Again, you may need to bring in cleanup and/or septic specialists.

DON’T FORGET TO CONTACT YOUR INSURER RIGHT AWAY IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE A CLAIM. Before submitting a claim for a covered loss, you may wish to speak with our attorneys about the claims process.

We are selling our home and the inspector found water damage. What should I do?

The discovery of water damage is not always a deal-breaker.

Assuming that the buyer does not want to just walk away, it should be possible to negotiate an agreement. That could mean you offer to pay for the costs to clean up the water damage and repair the source of it, or modify the sales price to reflect these costs. In this situation the ball is completely in the buyer’s court, although your willingness to make things right could go a long way toward sealing the deal.

You should also consider having your own inspection done by someone you trust. Differences of opinion about the extent and cause of the water damage—and whether the issue could be part of a larger, ongoing issue—are highly relevant to buyer-seller negotiations.

It can also be helpful to speak with an attorney during the home sale process, especially if the water damage is something of which you had even the slightest knowledge. Failure to disclose defects to the buyer could create a legal dispute down the road. Avoid problems later with a quick legal consult now.

I cleaned up the water leak in my home and had a plumber make repairs. May I still file a claim?

Doing leak cleanup and repairs on your property does not invalidate an insurance claim, but not promptly contacting your insurer about the leak could.

Insurance policies include duties that a homeowner must perform after a loss. One of them is giving prompt notice to the insurer. You are also expected to protect the property from further damage and make reasonable and necessary temporary repairs to protect the property.

So proactively dealing with a leak is not only within your rights—it is your responsibility. This can include hiring a plumber to address the leak’s underlying cause, as well as hiring a water extraction company to do professional cleanup. Take pictures of the leak and any damaged property and save receipts from any cleanup or repairs. More extensive repairs should be put off until the insurance company can send an adjuster to your home to take a look, but you can still get contractor estimates. Prepare an inventory of damaged or destroyed property and don’t throw anything away until the adjuster visits.

The exact meaning of “prompt notice” to your insurer has some wriggle room, but suffice it so say you should contact them as soon as possible to find out how to proceed within policy guidelines.

We encourage homeowners to speak with us before submitting a claim in order to protect their interests.

I had a leak more than a year ago. May I still file a claim?

Your homeowners insurance policy specifies how long you have to file a claim. Most policies state that you must provide “prompt” notice of a property loss (or potential loss). While this term is somewhat ambiguous, prompt or timely notice can generally be understood as “reasonable” notice in light of the facts and circumstances of the loss.

There may be extenuating circumstances that prevented you from reporting the loss right away. For example, maybe you were out of town on vacation and came home to find the leak, or you found water damage in a property that you only use seasonally. But even in these instances the policy may have a clause that allows it to deny a loss that goes unnoticed for weeks or months because the property should have been adequately monitored.

The insurance company might be more likely to forgive late reporting if it doesn’t impede their ability to investigate and assess the water damage. Pictures of the damage and receipts for professional services probably won’t be enough to secure coverage for a loss that occurred a year or more ago.

Assuming that the loss is a covered one and that the company does offer coverage, it’s also worth asking whether the loss is significant enough to warrant a claim, since claims on your policy can result in a rate hike or non-renewal. If the value of the claim is less than, or even slightly above, your policy deductible, consider swallowing the loss.

Read your policy for specific information about claims-filing deadlines and contact your insurance company with any further questions.

Isn’t the city responsible for my sewer lines?

The rule in most cities is that you own and are responsible for the sewer line from your property to the city’s sewer main. Property owners must keep their sewer pipes in good working order, while the municipality maintains and repairs public sewer pipes.

There can be some confusion over which party must perform upkeep on sewer laterals located under the street or otherwise in the public right-of-way. A good rule of thumb is that the pipe from your house to the center of the street is your responsibility, but some municipalities might share sewer lateral responsibilities with property owners. Check with your city to find out how it works where you live.

Disputes may arise over the location of a sewer malfunction and whether the city or a private owner must pay to fix it. City statutes specify how such disputes are to be resolved. Resolution could require exposing parts of the sewer line to determine the cause and location of the malfunction.

Homeowners insurance only covers losses that occur on the “residence premises,” but failure by the city to properly maintain public sewer pipe could result in a sewer backup on your property. If this happens, and the claim is covered, the insurance company might take issue with the city. In the case of an uncovered loss, you might have a case against the city.

Should I call a plumber or the insurance company first about my pipes?

It depends on what the issue is. There’s no sense in contacting your insurer if there hasn’t been an actual property loss. That is, if a burst pipe, leak, backup, or some other type of plumbing system malfunction hasn’t caused any damage to your property, there’s nothing to discuss with the insurance company since they only pay for existing covered losses—not losses that might occur.

In fact, contacting the insurance company about a plumbing issue that hasn’t yet caused damage can put you in a tough position if that same issue causes a covered loss in the future. An insurance company can deny coverage for losses that the homeowner expected or had foreknowledge of. You can’t claim that you didn’t know about a problem that results in a covered loss after you alert the insurance company to your concerns.

For concerns about an aging plumbing system you might want to hire a plumber for a pipe inspection and consultation. Pipe replacement isn’t likely to be covered by insurance, but depending on piping age and condition, failure could be imminent and replacement necessary.

In the event of a plumbing breakage that results in water damage, first call a plumber to make repairs, then contact your insurance company about filing a claim. You have a duty to mitigate property damage and prevent further losses, and as long as you call the insurer soon after the accident occurs, you’re acting in accordance with the policy.

Not sure what you should or shouldn’t say to your insurance company? Have questions about what your policy does and doesn’t cover? Denied, delayed or underpaid claim? Contact our insurance dispute attorneys for a free case review.

Am I responsible for a burst pipe?

You shouldn’t be responsible, provided that you have homeowners insurance, but your insurance company may try to deny coverage based on a water damage exclusion clause.

Many policies have a restriction that denies coverage for certain types of water/water-borne material damage, particularly damage generated by an outside water source, such as flood water. Damage that originates from within the residence itself—i.e., from the plumbing system—is typically covered, although certain exclusions could result in denial of coverage.

For example, some policies exclude coverage for plumbing system discharges resulting from age and deterioration of pipes. Policies may also deny coverage for accidental damage caused by water or material that backs up through a sewer, drain, or blocked or broken pipes located below ground.

At the same time, policy language can be open to more than one interpretation—one providing coverage, the other limiting or denying coverage. If you feel that this is the case with your policy, you can challenge the insurer in court. When the court considers an insurance policy to be ambiguous (lacks plain meaning), it typically rules in favor of the insured.

The bottom line is that an insurance company that denies coverage (or offers a "lowball" settlement) is not always in the right, and it’s worth talking to a legal professional before accepting an insurer’s decision.

My homeowners insurance is not clear on whether I'm covered. What do I do?

Insurance policy language can be confusing to a non-expert: full of definitions, exclusions, and exceptions that make it difficult to know whether a loss is covered or not.

By law, policies are supposed to be written in plain and intelligible language. Policy language that is ambiguous (or open to more than one interpretation) improves an insured person’s chances of being covered for a given loss, but an insurance policy is not ambiguous merely because it is complex or requires analysis.

You might want to contact your insurance company for assistance with interpreting coverage, although what you say to an insurance rep could come back to haunt you.

If you submitted a claim that you believe was wrongly denied or underpaid, it’s worth speaking with a lawyer who will put your interests first. An attorney can also help you to determine whether you are covered for a loss that already occurred.

Why did they build homes with pipes that were going to corrode?

No material is immune from the effects of time and usage, and no pipes last forever. Building material technology is constantly improving. When cast iron piping was first used in the United States in the early 1800s, it was far more reliable and durable than the wooden pipes that were then common.

Nowadays concrete, clay and PVC piping are considered to be the longest-lasting materials, but they aren’t perfect. PVC can last 100+ years but is toxic to produce and becomes brittle over time, while concrete and clay pipes are prone to tree root invasion. Even copper, often considered the gold standard of plumbing pipes, can corrode and leak.

All pipe materials have benefits and drawbacks. Through decades of real world use, the flaws and strengths of a material become better understood. Environmental factors also influence how well a material holds up. It’s now clear that cast iron pipes will corrode over time—in 40 years or less, in some places. Yet when your cast iron pipes were installed, they were likely the best choice at the time.

Will a broken plumbing system affect my property value?

A failing cast iron plumbing system can reduce your home market value by 20% or more, putting you at a significant disadvantage when it comes time to sell or refinance your house.

Kitchens and bathrooms dramatically affect home value and are two areas that home buyers most closely inspect. Any serious buyer will receive a professional home inspection, including a thorough inspection of the plumbing system, before completing the deal. No matter how modern and appealing a kitchen and a bathroom are on the surface, pipes that are in bad shape could be a deal-breaker or result in a lowball offer. Likewise, a home inspection during the refinancing process that reveals bad plumbing could result in a financial setback.

You can’t simply ignore your bad plumbing. Sooner or later, old pipes fail. It’s worth addressing the problem now. Delaying pipe replacement could keep you from realizing your sale or refinancing goal. Bad pipes can also result in significant property damage and health problems.

Should I replace my old pipes?

A well-functioning plumbing system is vital to ensuring the health and safety of your family. If your home was built before 1975, the pipes are due to fail sooner or later. An old cast iron plumbing system could be leaking water and toxic sewer gasses into your home, causing backups and foul smells, attracting pests, and lowering your property value. And when pipes fail completely the results can be disastrous—not to mention costly.

Insurance companies, however, routinely deny coverage for damage from pipes that leak or fail due to old age or disrepair. They also probably won’t pay to repair or replace your plumbing system as a matter of preventative maintenance. But if water damage from deteriorated pipes has already occurred, your insurer may be required to repair or replace your pipes.

What is—and isn’t—covered by your insurance is open to interpretation based on the policy language. If you feel that your claim for pipe repair or replacement was wrongfully denied or underpaid, we might be able to help.

How long will it take to replace my cast iron plumbing system? How much will it cost?

The answer to both of these questions is that it depends on the size of your home (or business). Replacing cast iron plumbing can range from $20,000 to more than $100,000.

Most home and business owners insurance policies are “replacement cost” policies. This means the insurance company has promised you that they will pay the full cost of replacing your old plumbing with new plumbing if there is a covered loss.

Multiple factors can influence these estimates, however, including:

• Home size
• Number of stories
• Ease of pipe access
• Piping material
• Amount of pipe to be replaced

My insurance company denied my claim. What now?

Claim denials are not always legitimate.

It’s disappointing, to say the least, when you pay your insurance premiums on time and then are denied coverage when you need it. Following a denial notice, you should get in touch with your insurer and ask for a detailed explanation of why the claim was not approved. Mistakes do happen, and once you know the reason for the denial you can double check your policy to see if it’s due to a mistake or oversight on the insurer’s part.

Whatever you do, don’t go it alone. If you think you may have a claim, we will review your insurance denial for free. If your insurance company is doing the right thing, we will tell you. If they aren't, we will tell you how we can help

Often, insurance denials are written in a way that makes you think there is nothing that can be done. But even if your insurance company hired an engineer or some other professional to inspect your home, you should still consult an expert to see if you have a case.

Almost every cast iron pipe case we have won started with the insurance company saying, “No.” But “No” is not the end of the inquiry; it is just the beginning.

If you think you may have a claim, please contact us for a free case review. If the insurance company is doing the right thing, we will tell you. If not, we will explain what we can do to help. Either way, you are entitled to peace of mind.

There are never any costs unless we win a jury award or settlement. In most cases, we can force your insurance company to pay all of our attorneys’ fees in the event of an award.

Will the insurance company pay to re-pipe my house?

Maybe. If old cast iron pipes have caused any water damage in your home, then your insurance company is required to repair or replace the pipes. However, from a practical standpoint, if it is not possible to repair the pipes because of their age, the insurance company will be required to re-pipe the entire house.

Be sure to schedule a free case review if you have questions about what is and is not covered under your homeowners insurance policy.

Do I have a case?

You may have a case if:

  • You already filed an insurance claim that was denied or resulted in a lowball settlement; or
  • You suffered pipe-related water damage and have not yet filed a claim

You may be concerned about your pipes but have not yet suffered damage. In these cases, we encourage homeowners to contact us if a future loss occurs, as we may be able to help at that point. Currently, however, we are only accepting cases related to actual damage claims.