Water damage in homes is a leading cause of homeowners’ insurance claims, second only to wind and hail damage. In fact, in Florida the frequency of non-flood water damage claims has increased 46% since 2010.
As a result, the insurance industry has found new ways to limit and deny coverage for water damage. One tactic has been to impose a time limit on covered water damage. That is, coverage is now typically limited to “sudden and accidental” damage, and any damage that occurs over a period of time greater than 14 days is excluded.
This 14-day time limit seems clear enough, but in reality, it is ambiguous and problematic for policyholders. For many reasons, property owners are not always aware of water damage when it starts. They might, for example, be out of town for two or more weeks, or they might not know that a pipe or appliance is leaking slowly behind a wall or in a closet or in a part of their home they don’t use much.
Usually in these situations, more than 14 days pass between the time the damage begins and the time when the homeowners become aware of it, either because of obvious signs such as sitting water, peeling paint, damp or moldy areas, or musty smells. Property owners generally expect their homeowners’ policies to cover the damage and are confused and upset if their water damage claims are denied on the basis of the 14-day exclusion.
Another area of concern is the determination of when the water damage began. When first discovering water damage in their homes, most home owners will call their insurance companies to report the damage. The insurance companies, in turn, will typically send out a water damage “expert” to assess the cause, origin, and extent of the damage. If this water damage vendor concludes the damage has existed for 14 days or more, the homeowners’ claim could be denied without their having been able to get an independent water damage vendor’s evaluation of the situation. With the passage additional time, this option becomes less and less feasible.
Still another point of contention is ambiguity in the 14-day exclusion itself. Damage that occurs 14 days or after the inception of a water leak may not be covered, according to your homeowners’ policy. But what about the damage that occurred on days 1 – 13 of the leak? Shouldn’t that damage be covered? Fortunately, a 2018 Appeals Court decision has upheld our argument that damage that occurs to property before the 14th day should be covered
When your water damage claim is denied or underpaid, seeking the help of an experienced insurance claim attorney is recommended. Attorneys understand the tactics insurance companies use and can fight for what is rightfully yours. When you have a legitimate claim, don’t be intimidated by your insurance company. Get the help you need to get paid fairly for damage to your property.
Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. Annual report 2017. https://www.floir.com/siteDocuments/2017AnnualReport.pdf
Whitely & Whitely v. American Integrity Insurance Company of Florida. State of Florida Court of Appeals for the Fifth District (29 June 2018).