Responding to and Investigating Escape of Water Claims

Philippa Moore, PhD, CEng, FWeldl FIMMM, IWE & Kiera Biggins, BSc (Hons) MSc IAAI-FIT

During the winter months, escape of water claims can increase. Learn how you can respond and investigate these claims quickly

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Escape of water damage is one of the most common types of domestic property claims. Just one location of water leakage can cause significant household destruction. According to Escape of Water – A Good Practice Guide for Claims Professionals, the cost of escape of water (EOW) claims have been increasing year after year with nearly £8m being paid out per day on such claims in the UK.

Causes of Escape of Water

Our investigations over the years have found that a variety of factors contribute to escape of water incidents. These may include:

  • poor plumbing installation and workmanship
  • production and manufacturing defects
  • poor component design
  • pressure fluctuations and water hammer
  • accidental or deliberate physical or mechanical damage
  • weather dependent temperature fluctuations such as the thawing of frozen pipework
  • gradual deterioration over time including the effects of corrosion

Investigations have specifically found poor workmanship to be the most common cause of EOW claims. While this trend can be seen across all types of pipe connections, push-fit and compression joint failures tend to be most frequent. These failures often result from the pipe being inadequately inserted within the fitting body, pipe inserts not being installed, cross-threading or overtightening of the compression nut, or use of incompatible components.

Failures in unvented hot water systems can also result in extensive water damage. Hot water systems and discharge pipework must be adequately installed and maintained as well as fitted with the appropriate safety devices. Failure to do so can lead to problems with system components such as expansion vessels, hot water cylinders or booster pumps.

Responding to Escape of Water Incidents

Ensuring detailed documentation of evidence is critical to making a strong case for an EOW claim. It is, therefore, best to act quickly to preserve the scene when an escape of water incident occurs. A case can be hampered if the evidence is destroyed or disposed of by the occupants, installer, or other third parties before a forensic investigation can be undertaken.

An independent plumber should also be designated to complete only the essential remedial works required to mitigate damage and spread. Plumbers should take images of any failed fittings prior to, during and after removal and be aware of minimising spoliation of the scene and its evidence.

Investigating Escape of Water Claims

In an EOW case, forensic investigators can help determine the prospects of recovery or repudiation as well as any indications of fraud at the scene. Ideally, investigators should be appointed during the early stages of the claim and be the first to arrive on the scene. They can investigate the mechanical and materials science behind broken or corroded plumbing components, pipes or fittings and support this with origin and cause reporting.

It is also important that appointed investigators have the skills and expertise to conduct a thorough investigation and keep up-to-date with regulatory requirements and certification framework applicable to qualified plumbers.

For example, last month, Jensen Hughes UK forensic investigators undertook Hot Water Systems and Safety (HWSS) plumbing skills training and Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS) courses at the Essex Skills Centre. Successful completion of certification exams for both these courses allows forensic investigators to report on their findings in EOW cases with an increased level of authority.

Conclusion

A variety of factors can contribute to escape of water. However, early detection and mitigation of potential leakage problems can help prevent EOW damage and reduce the number of EOW claims. When escape of water incidents do occur, efforts to preserve and document the evidence should be prioritized and a qualified forensic investigator should be commissioned to identify the root cause. This will ensure that a proper investigation can take place without any corruption or disturbance to the evidence and that EOW claims are paid out appropriately.

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