Water damage to your home or business can cause lead to significant problems in a short amount of time. Depending on the how water caused damage and the type of policy you purchased can mean the difference between your insurance company accepting or denying your claim.
Water Damage or Flood Damage?
This is the first question an adjuster will determine once you file an insurance claim. Water damage and flood damage mean very different things to your insurance company.
Typically, water damage is defined in your policy as a sudden event such as a pipe break or a dishwasher or washing machine that fails. Most policies will also cover water from a leaking roof or wall, but some will only cover water if it was a result of damage to the structure from another source — for instance, wind storm damage that creates an opening for water to enter.
Flood damage is not covered by standard property insurance policies and policyholders must have a separate flood policy. Many flood policies define a flood similar to the language used by FEMA:
A general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of normally dry land areas from:
- The overflow of inland or tidal waters;
- The unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source;
- Mudslides (i.e., mudflows) which are proximately caused by flooding and are akin to a river of liquid and flowing mud on the surfaces of normally dry land areas, as when earth is carried by a current of water and deposited along the path of the current.
A flood inundates a floodplain. Floods often fall into three major categories: riverine flooding, coastal flooding, and shallow flooding. Alluvial fan flooding is another type that is generally more common in the mountainous western states.
Water damage which enters the home from the ground from hurricanes, heavy rains, or overflowing rivers or lakes are considered flood damage and not covered by your homeowners policy.
Gradual or Sudden Water Damage?
Another factor to consider in your claim is whether the water damage occurred over time or was a sudden incident. Only sudden incidents are covered by most homeowner's insurance policies.
Chronic or Gradual Damage from Water
The insurance adjuster’s inspection may result in your claim being denied due to chronic water damage. For example, if the chronic damage was from a roof leak that caused slow water seepage over time—most policies do not cover gradual damage. As a homeowner, the insurance company expects regular maintenance of your property and all of the systems that could cause water damage.
The adjuster might allege gradual water damage and use the following as a basis to deny your claim:
- Deteriorating shingles, flashing, or tiles on your roof
- Evidence of mold, rotten wood, or corrosion of pipes or wiring
- Deteriorating electrical wiring
- Your home in general disrepair, or poor repairs
Sudden or Accidental Damage from Water
Sudden water damage is typically from an accidental event, such as a tree falling on your roof and water pouring into your home, or a washing machine hose bursting.
While water that flows over the ground and seeps through your walls or a sewer backup might be sudden, it’s often classified as a flood and not covered (although you can add some limited coverage for sewer backup damages to your policy).
Water Damage Claim Disputes
Some claims can be complex. Your policy may cover portions of a water damage claim, but exclude some of the loss. There are cases where gradual, ongoing damage was caused by an initial, sudden event, that may be covered. Unforeseen events may not be covered, but the “resulting damage” may be covered. Oftentimes, claim dispute cases arise from an insurance adjuster's inspection stating that the loss was due to chronic or gradual water entry.