Christopher Nahas – May 28, 2014
Standard homeowners policy language excludes losses caused by water, however what is meant by this is not always clear. Water damage generally includes flood, sewer backup and seepage from water below ground. Despite these categories, disputes often arise regarding whether damages caused by water are covered.
An issue that frequently comes up is what constitutes a “flood” in a homeowner policy exclusion. Courts have generally agreed that river overflow caused by heavy rains is what is meant by the term “flood” in an insurance contract.1 Also, water propelled by wind or another similar force can be generally considered flood, however other factors may play into whether this type of water damage will be excluded as flood.
For artificial sources, courts tend not to define water damage as flood. For example, some courts have held that a burst pipe or water main does not constitute flood damage.2 Courts in these instances have found the policy language ambiguous, finding that the insureds would likely interpret the term flood in its connotation as a natural event or body of water. Similarly, where insurance companies claim burst pipes and leaks to be excluded as resulting from “pressure, seepage and leaks,” some courts have found this language to be ambiguous and allowed for coverage.3
Just because your insurance company denies coverage based on a policy exclusion, does not mean they are correct in their coverage analysis. Often, insurance companies will immediately deny any form of water damage as excluded under the flood provision only to have these denials overturned by the courts. As always, in such instances it’s a good idea to discuss the matter with a professional before conceding to the insurance company’s interpretation.
1 4 Law and Prac. of Ins. Coverage Litig. § 50:3.
2 Popkin v. Security Mut. Ins. Co. of New York, 48 A.D.2d 46, 367 N.Y.S.2d 492 (1975).
3 Mellon v. Hingham Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 19 Mass. App. Ct. 933, 472 N.E.2d 674 (1984).