Cast iron drain pipes are the latest target of claims in Florida. But they can be defended.
A decade ago, it was questionable sinkhole damage that was proliferating property insurance claims in Florida. More recently, “free roof” solicitations, roof claims and thousands of lawsuits have rocked the industry.
Now comes cast iron drain pipes, common in homes built before 1975.
Pipe systems have become targets for some of Florida’s biggest plaintiffs’ law firms, according to attorneys, insurance adjusters and engineers. The pipes may lead to many more claims and lawsuits in the years to come, after Florida lawmakers take steps to reduce roof-related claims and litigation.
“We see patterns. Real Estate Claims Patterns,” said Cassandra Hand-Gallegos, claims adjuster and CEO of CCMS & Associates in Dunedin, Fla., who spoke last week at the Florida Defense Lawyers Association claims conference in Orlando.
“The biggest problem is not what happens inside the pipes, but what happens with the insurance claims industry,” said David Grindley, a forensic structural engineer who has also spoke at the conference.
A recent TV ad from Orlando-based Morgan & Morgan, which calls itself America’s largest personal injury law firm, for example, shows large amounts of money that may be available to landlords whose homes have over 45 years old and who may have sewage disposal problems. . Replacing drain pipes in a home can cost between $20,000 and $100,000, notes the Morgan & Morgan website.
Another plaintiffs’ law firm, Florin Roebig of West Palm Beach, reports that some 76 million American homes have cast iron pipes, of which “an alarming number” are experiencing problems. That risk is high in Florida, with its high humidity and salt-rich soil, the company’s website says.
Grindley and Hand-Gallegos said many of these claims are exaggerated. Cast iron pipes don’t often need a complete replacement, and there are ways to frustrate wrongful or misleading claims and litigation, they argue.
“Cast iron is in many ways superior to other types of materials,” Grindley said. “The pipes are very rigid. They are strong and won’t break if you hit them with a shovel when digging in the backyard.
In many homes, pipes have been in use for over a century. But they can rust to some degree and develop deposits inside that can restrict the flow of drainage water, which a growing number of claims have tried to take advantage of, he said.
Grindley said many insurance claims start with a clogged kitchen sink. In a number of cases his company has investigated, homeowners, public adjusters or plumbing contractors have claimed that mold under sinks was the result of backed up cast iron pipes.
More likely, he said, the growth is due to years of leaks in plastic sink drains or supply lines, or seepage around the edge of the basin.
One way to tell if the blockage is in the main drain pipe under the house or under the sink is to see where the overflow started. A backed-up main drain line will force water through the lowest opening first, Grindley explained. If the sink, 36 inches above the floor, is overflowing – but the floor-level shower drain is not – that means the sink drain is clogged, not the water lines. evacuation of the whole house.
For this reason, it is important that adjusters interview homeowners, where possible, about where and when the backup was located.
“Always ask: Where was the applicant at the time of the overflow? Where were they standing? in the kitchen? In the bathroom?” said Grindley. “If they say ‘the kitchen’, we doubt it’s the main drain.”
Another rule of thumb: household drains don’t hold a lot of water. If the whole house is flooded, it’s likely the result of a supply line or outside water source, not a clogged drain.
Many home insurance policies completely exclude water main losses. Others exclude damage from gradual leaks. Despite the use of these endorsements, however, non-weather water-related claims and litigation appear to be on the rise in Florida and have resulted in a number of appellate court rulings in recent years – some for insurers. , others against. The exact wording of the policy endorsement is often in question.
To investigate and defend cast iron pipe claims, Grindley and Hand-Gallegos proposed several other rules that insurance companies and their adjusters and adjusters should follow:
- Carefully inspect the house. This may require a video inspection inside the drain lines to determine the condition of the pipes and find any obstructions. Check the vent and chimney pipes for good air circulation. Map the location of the pipes.
- Ask for building permits to help you determine if the plumbing installation and repairs have been done correctly. Check the claims history. Report to the carrier any information that has not been made available.
- Determine if the blockage can be easily rectified. In most cases, clogged pipes can be cleared with a water jet or with a root cutter or simple auger. (But be prepared to quickly clean up any water that might overflow from the procedure.)
- And if the cast iron pipes are clogged, it does not mean that the whole system needs to be replaced. Many times the pipes can be cleaned and then lined with polymer sleeves that will last for decades.
- Be prepared to counter the “hydrostatic test” often employed by claimants’ experts. The test aims to check for leaks in a drain system by plugging the exit points and filling the pipe with water, Grindley explained. If the water level drops in a relatively short period of time, this may indicate a leak. Grindley said the test is misleading and will almost always show “leaks” because drain lines are not normally pressurized and don’t experience these conditions in everyday use.
- Beware of additional damage or “last resort” claims, such as “contaminated or damaged soil” around pipes. “The ground is the ground. Is it contaminated simply because sewage has come into contact with it? Grindley asked. “You can put lime on it and 24 hours later you’re good to go.”
- If it is determined that the drain pipes do in fact need to be replaced, consider rerouting them to the outside of the house, instead of undertaking the disruptive and costly method of having to cut through the concrete slab in several rooms.
And watch for claimants’ expert plumbers who report that a complete pipe replacement is needed, when those plumbers have a vested interest in doing the job. Grindley cited a complaining plumber’s report that said the system would soon fail simply because he was 66.
“Anyone here aged 66 or older?” he asked the crowd of defense attorneys and adjusters. “Have you failed? »
Claims in Florida