There's a leak! Am I at Fault?
By Alexandra Richards, Private Clients Development Executive
Escape of water is consistently the most expensive claim for domestic property insurers. Latest Association of British Insurers (ABI) data shows that, in the first nine months of 2017, domestic escape of water claims cost £483 million, with the average claim costing £2,638.
A common occurrence is a leak from an upstairs flat that has then caused damage to the flat downstairs; a familiar sight is a stained ceiling, bubbled paintwork and sodden plasterboard but carpets, curtains and other contents can also be damaged such as the fine art hanging on the walls. A faulty washing machine, a burst pipe, a leaking radiator are all events that you could either be on the receiving end of or to your horror have inflicted on a neighbour.
The general, mistaken belief is that if the leak came from your property, you are liable and should pay for any damage incurred to your neighbour’s property. The reality is that unless you are found to be negligent your home insurers won’t pay to repair your neighbours damaged property. It would need to be proven that you were legally liable for the damages caused, that you were negligent in your actions. Your normal leaks are simply bad luck and not negligent, unless for example a leaking boiler had leaked before and had not been repaired and had subsequent proper annual inspections. This illustrates that in practice it requires more than one incident and a failure of the occupier/owner above to address the cause of the water penetration below before negligence can really be proved. It would be different if the cause was directly due to the occupiers/owner’s negligent action. For example, if a bath was allowed to overflow whilst it was left running unattended. Another such example might be if the leak came from an unoccupied property that wasn’t being checked on a regular basis.
As such, where no negligence is proven you have to claim from your own insurance policy for any damage to your property and contents. It is worth making sure that you have trace and access cover included in your policy. A building is likely to contain many pipes and appliances and it is possible for water to travel through the structure of the building before emerging in a room or another property. Tracing the source of the leak and then accessing it can be a messy business with tiles or plasterboard or even sanitary units needing to be removed. If you have ‘trace and access’ cover in your household policy it should cover you for the costs involved in finding the source of any water which has escaped, subject to the policy’s terms and conditions. So, the cost of putting tiles and plasterboard back would be covered.
However, should you be found legally liable for a leak as a property owner or occupier, you will want peace of mind that you have cover for your legal liability to the public known as public liability insurance. Check your buildings and contents policy carefully to ensure that this is included.
‘It costs nothing to find out if you are properly insured’. Please get in touch if you would like a review of home insurance: e-mail Alexandra.Richards@Brucestevenson.co.uk or call 07464545648.