Once again, Ohio is gripped with plunging temperatures and resulting claims from pipe freeze losses. Recently, RMI was pleased to present a program along with Lee Fire Protection on “Sprinkler System Freeze Failures: Causes, Investigation and Successful Subrogation.” The webinar was a joint presentation with PLRB and NASP.
Plumbing failures occur when water in a system freezes. Water expands when it changes from liquid to solid, and if there are not sufficient air pockets a pipe break will ensue. Often the failure is not evident until a thaw or warming in temperature, sometimes two to three days after the bitter cold spell ends. The resulting escape of water can be catastrophic. RMI has successfully litigated multiple cases involving freeze failures in sprinkler systems, along with other pipe freeze and other plumbing failures.
Recently the firm had a $516,000.00 pipe break water loss subrogation settlement at a commercial building in northern Ohio. The case was litigated by RMI Attorney David Matejczyk.
Other significant recoveries by the firm have involved six digit settlements on freeze failures involving contractors who deviated from the standards set forth in NFPA 13 (Standard for Installation of Sprinkler Systems, and NFPA 25 – Inspection Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems). RMI Attorneys David Matejczyk and Glenna Roberts have litigated multiple large and small losses involving freeze failures, NFPA 13 and NFPA 25. The firm also this past year added to its property division Attorney Dustin Smith a graduate of Ohio State’s engineering program whose background includes fluid and thermodynamics.
Recoveries related to freeze failure claims have involved sprinkler system installation, improper maintenance by service companies, improper insulation by contractors, improper plumbing workmanship, contractors who caused the building envelope to breach allowing cold to freeze pipes and management companies who failed to maintain heat in recently vacated properties.
Common subrogation targets on a freeze failure loss include:
-Sprinkler system inspection/service companies
-Roofers who may have impacted pipe pitch
-Manufacturers, suppliers and sellers of heating related products that failed
-Alarm and security monitoring companies
-Tenants who failed to properly heat premises
-Management companies who failed to arrange heat in vacant apartments
Subrogating the pipe freeze failure loss is unique from other losses. A primary challenge is that mitigation efforts usually begin immediately to avoid further damages from plummeting temperatures. Often the subrogation target is an entity the insured calls as part of remediation.
As soon as the pipe freeze claim is reported, if possible ask the insured to photograph the loss immediately, prior to arrival of the adjuster.
Ensure any parts (metal pipes, elbows, sprinkler heads) are preserved and not removed from the scene.
On a freeze failure involving a fire suppression system immediately contact an expert and counsel who are familiar with the requirements of NFPA 13 and NFPA 25. It is imperative to have a professional investigate the loss who is familiar with NFPA requirements, including pitch of pipe, previous testing and maintenance and other technical issues.
Document and inquire why there was a lack of heat in the impacted areas. For example, was a thermostat set at the proper level by a tenant or the insured. Building blueprints and mechanicals from the insured should be requested, along with contracts, subcontracts inspection and maintenance records.
The subrogation notice letter on a pipe freeze claim is also different than one used on fire and other property losses. If the subrogation target was already called as part of immediate remediation efforts, address this in the correspondence along with a demand that all evidence removed or repaired be preserved or documented.