PIPE FREEZE SEASON! Subrogation Targets, Tips & Checklist

Once again, forecasts in the Midwest are calling for plunging temperatures that frequently result in pipe freeze claims.

Located in frigid Ohio, RMI has years of subrogation experience on freeze failures and helping insurers recover on losses occurring during what our firm refers to as “pipe freeze season.”

Our property division includes counsel who have years of experience in freeze failures, one with an engineering degree and concentration in fluid dynamics. A support staff member also is an engineering graduate.

The last 2021 and 2022 winter seasons saw RMI recover $1,260,000.00 on freeze claims, and we are again prepared to help insurers weather the predicted storms. Freeze failures involve complex issues. RMI has a proven track record of immediate response, engaging the proper experts in cold weather related losses and recoveries. Freeze failures encompass sprinkler system installation, maintenance by service companies, construction errors, and faulty plumbing standards set forth in NFPA 13 (Standard for Installation of Sprinkler Systems), and NFPA 25 – Inspection Testing and Maintenance of Fire Protection Systems.

Subrogation Checklist & Tips:

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. Often the subrogation target is also an entity the insured calls as part of remediation. A checklist and some tips:

___As soon as the pipe freeze claim is reported ask the insured to photograph the loss immediately prior to arrival of the adjuster. Mitigation usually starts quickly, so early documentation is paramount and efforts are needed to ensure any parts (metal pipes, elbows, sprinkler heads) are preserved. These items are often removed from the scene by contractors, including those who may be responsible for the loss.

___On fire suppression losses it is imperative to have an expert and counsel who are familiar with NFPA 13 and 25 requirements including pitch of pipe, previous testing and maintenance, technical issues, flow alarm and monitoring. The subrogation investigation should begin immediately.

___Flow alarm, other alarms, monitoring and if applicable pump history data records need downloaded and preserved.

___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? As part of the investigation the furnace, thermostat and heat system should be cycled to ensure that it was operational.

___Explore if there are possible product liability issues with a furnace, HVAC system, or component that may have caused or contributed to the lack of heat.

___Inquire if any recent construction work involved changes in the building envelope, insulation, sofit or related issues that would allow for a freezing internal temperature.

___Building blueprints and mechanicals from the insured should be requested, along with contracts, subcontracts, fire suppression inspection history and maintenance records.

___A review of fire suppression contracts, invoices and work order terms is necessary as they often have clauses pertaining to to notice, shortened statutes and other relevant issues.

Common subrogation targets on a freeze failure loss include:

  • Sprinkler system inspection/service companies
  • Architects
  • Construction contractors
  • Plumbing contractors
  • Insulation contractors
  • Construction contractors
  • Roofing contractors
  • HVAC contractors
  • Manufacturers, suppliers and sellers of heating related products that may have failed
  • Alarm and security monitoring companies