Weather Related Damage

Now that spring is here, the possibility of severe weather is a constant threat.  Here in the south we have just gotten through three severe storm episodes in the last two weeks.  With the severe storms come the storm claims.  It should be noted that whenever a claim is submitted to a carrier, the damage has to be weather related.  In other words, the cause of the damage has to be connectable to the resulting damage.  Although this point might seem obvious, there are those people that don’t realize what this statement means.  Just because your a/c goes out after several days of rain doesn’t mean that it was struck by lightning.  Unless lightning is proven to have been present when the failure occurred (and it is possible), the failure was most likely caused by something else.  We recently investigated an instance where a homeowner claimed that his heat pump expired as a result of ice that formed during a winter storm in February.  Upon further investigation, it was determined that the breakers that controlled power to the heating side of the unit were old and worn to the point where nuisance tripping was occurring.  As a result, the unit would not operate for more than a few minutes before shutting down.  The condition of the breakers is shown in the photograph below.  It is also understood that not everyone can be their own technician but, remember, if your claim is submitted on the basis of weather damage, the damage has to be seen as sudden and accidental.  But, more importantly, the damage has to be “connectable” to the damage causing event.  It is further suggested that when a weather related incident is encountered, it is documented as thoroughly as possible. Examples of documentation include taking photographs of ice crushing pipes, burn marks left behind after a lightning strike, wind tearing off roofing shingles, flood water level marks left on walls.  Remember to make notes and document all conversations with people involved as well.        

Cracked and Worn Breakers

Another Refrigerator Water Filter Failure

In yet another example of a defective product, we have encountered another water filter that has failed and caused damage to a residence.  The appliance involved was a Samsung refrigerator, model # RS2556SH.  This refrigerator uses a water filter that is mounted inside the refrigerator, in the upper right hand corner of the cabinet and is shown below.  The refrigerator is also equipped with an electronic panel that, among other things, tells the user when to replace the filter.  Although there is no way to tell when a filter will burst, it is prudent (and recommended) to replace the filter as soon as the filter light indicator tells the user that the filter life has expired.  Leaving the filter in place after the life has expired is risking a serious water leakage and damage situation.  As shown in the photograph below, the crack almost propagated around the entire circumference of the filter.  As it happened, the filter had been in use for approximately six months before the failure occurred.  It should be noted that the manufacturer recommends replacing the filter every six months.

Water filter cracked almost completely around

Property Inspection After Snow and Ice Storms

After last week’s ice and snow storm, most of the country has been left to dig out from under the freezing effects.  Most people don’t realize this but, ice can expand between 9 and 11 %.  When ice can’t naturally expand, the pressure imposed on the surroundings can rise dramatically.  Take for instance a water main break.  The water inside the water main doesn’t have to freeze for a break to occur.  Water in the ground can freeze and exert pressure on the exterior surface of the pipe by transmitting it through the dirt.  In similar ways, roofs can be damaged and pavement can be cracked.  Property owners should take the time to inspect their properties after thawing has occurred to determine if any damage is present.  If damage is encountered and depending on the extent of the damage, decisions will have to made on the best time to have the damage repaired,  how the damage will be repaired, and by whom.  Property owners should not take unnecessary risks, especially around electrical service.  Obviously, if the property owner cannot climb on the roof or enter a crawl space then they will have to find someone who can do the inspection for them.      

Ford F 350 Engine Fire

In our last blog update, January 7, we talked about the recall issued by Hyundai regarding faulty antilock brake and hydraulic electronic control units.  In that blog, we also discussed the recall of thousands of Tucson SUVs that contained a defective ABS/HECU control circuit board.  The circuit board has a tendency to corrode, short circuit and cause an engine fire.  A recent investigation into an engine fire in a 2017 Ford F350 showed that a similar ABS/HECU was installed in that vehicle at the factory.  The vehicle was purchased new by the insured/owner and as a result, the ABS/HECU had never been replaced.  A photograph of the ABS/HECU is shown below.  When compared to the photograph of the ABS/HECU in the previous blog entry, the units are identical.  Although it is unknown if the unit in the Ford truck is the same as the recalled unit in the Hyundai Tucson, corrosion could still be the reason why the engine fire occurred in the Ford vehicle.  Engine fires attributed to the faulty ABS/HECU units can occur without warning.  That is, there are no instrument panel warning lights that illuminate prior to a fire.  In this particular case, the warning that the owner got was that the engine lost power (since it was a diesel engine).        

ABS/HECU found in Ford F 350

Hyundai Recall Update

Back in September of last year, we reported that Hyundai had issued a recall for various vehicles because of a faulty antilock brake system module.  The problem had to do with brake fluid leaking internally within the module that caused the electronics to short circuit and start an engine fire.  Since that report, we have encountered an actual situation with a Hyundai Santa Fe, one of the vehicles recalled.  According to the vehicle owner, the fire spread very quickly and barely had enough time to get his passengers out of the vehicle before it was fully engulfed.  The defective part and extent of damage are shown in the photos below.  Owner notification of the recall was supposed to have begun in October of 2020.  Owners who have not received their notification letter should contact their Hyundai dealer to arrange for a free inspection and/or repair.  The dealer will most likely ask for the vehicle identification number, which can be found on the lower left hand corner of the windshield or on the sticker inside the driver’s side door or pillar.  The list of vehicles to which this recall applies was given in our September 2020 blog entry.  It should be noted that Hyundai has expanded this recall to include approximately 180,000 2019 through 2021 Tucson SUVs and an additional 471,000 2016 through 2018 Tucson vehicles.  The total number of recalled vehicles is now approximately 652,000. However, the problem with the Tucson vehicles does not have anything to do brake fluid leakage as much as it does corrosion of the electronic circuit board causing engine fires. The circuit board is located behind the ABS assembly and is therefore not visible in the photograph below.       

Extent of Fire Damage to Hyundai Santa Fe
Faulty Antilock Brake Module

When is it not a Truck Driver’s Fault?

When shipments are made by motor transport and arrive at their destination damaged, it’s the truck driver that usually gets the blame.  Somehow, he failed to tie the load down properly or cover the load with tarps to protect from flying debris that might be encountered on the road.  Regardless of how the damage occurred, once the load has left the shipper, it’s the driver’s responsibility.  Because of the agreement that transportation companies have with shippers, that is FOB origin or FOB factory, the trucking companies assume all liability while the load is in their possession.  So no matter what the driver claims about how any damage occurred, it’s still the driver’s responsibility.  Once in awhile, a situation arises where the damage to a load can be shown to have occurred before the transportation company assumed possession.  Such is the case where a shipment of electrical switchgear arrived damaged at a jobsite and the driver had no idea how the damage occurred.  The damage was limited to some broken switches and paint marks on the housing panels – minor damage compared to the cost of the equipment.  The photos below illustrate the damage.  During the investigation, it was determined that the switchgear was part of a redundant power substation.  Because of the design requirement for redundancy, two other loads for identical switchgear were ordered and shipped from the same shipping point.  Altogether, all three loads were loaded at the same shipping point and transported by three different transportation companies.  All three loads arrived damaged at the jobsite.  All three loads arrived with similar damage including the same color paint marks.  Although the evidence was circumstantial, it appeared that the equipment was loaded haphazardly by the forklift operator driving a yellow forklift.    

Missing switch and damaged switch plate
Yellow paint found on panel handle

Defective GE Dishwasher

Recently, we were assigned to a case where water damage had occurred inside a residential kitchen.  In this case, the dishwasher was placed in operation and allowed to run while the homeowner was away.  Upon returning, the homeowner discovered that their kitchen and part of their family room had been flooded with water.  After recovering the dishwasher and conducting an examination, it was discovered that the gasket between the drain and tub housing had failed.  The failure resulted in massive water leakage.  The photographs shown below illustrate how water was pouring out of the wash tub housing.  It should be noted that the dishwasher was approximately four years old when the incident occurred.  Dishwashers typically do not experience water leakage at the drain and gaskets last for the lifetime of the appliance.  In this case, the manufacturer used three rotating locks to hold the drain assembly in place while pressing down on the gasket to maintain a seal between the drain and housing.  This particular problem applies to General Electric dishwasher model # GDF520PSJ2SS.  It is recommended that owners with this dishwasher should not leave this appliance in operation with no one in attendance but, instead carefully monitor the operation.  At the first sign of water leakage, turn the dishwasher off.  Doing so will deenergize the water control valve and stop the flow of water into the tub.  However, water will continue to flow out of the area of leakage until the tub is completely drained.  It will become necessary to remove the dishwasher from its position, usually beneath a countertop, in order to dry the floor.  At this point, the homeowner will have a decision to make: have the dishwasher repaired or replace the appliance.  Remember that if the appliance is repaired, because of the design, the appliance will most likely leak again.               

Water observed streaming down from drain area

Close up view of water leaking from drain area

Potential Dodge Ram 1500 Fire Hazard

Recently, we investigated how a gasoline spill could have caused damage to an asphalt driveway.  During the investigation, it was learned that the insured had purchased a 2020 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck, approximately one month before the spill occurred.  It was also learned that the insured was leaving his residence when he noticed gasoline on his garage floor and driveway.  The dealer was subsequently contacted and the vehicle repaired.  According to the dealer’s work order, a quick connect fitting in the fuel line had separated and had allowed fuel to spill on the floor.  The insured described the scene as a large spill, gallons of fuel that occurred in a very short time period, seconds.  Although this incident occurred without fire, the separation of the quick connect fitting crated an enormous fire hazard.  The only indication that the insured had of a potential problem was that the truck would not immediately start.  If you own a 2020 Dodge Ram 1500 and experience difficulty starting, STOP!  Get out of the truck, if you smell gasoline fumes or see a fuel spill, DO NOT attempt to move the vehicle.  Instead, get yourself and your passengers away from the vehicle.  If there is no fire, contact your dealer and advise them of the situation and request that they arrange for towing back to their location for repair.  If there is a fire, call 911.  As far as the asphalt driveway was concerned, the binding materials used in asphalt will absorb gasoline and as a result, weaken the bond between the binder and the asphalt.  The end result will be a surface that will not withstand vehicular loads, it will eventually crack and break.          

Hints That you Might Have a Subrogation Case

Anytime that the failure of a product causes personal injury or property damage, there is a possibility that an insurance carrier could recoup its expenditures from the manufacturer, installer or servicer.  However, not all product failures result in grounds for subrogation claims.  Sometimes products “wear out” and when they do, it can be due to the expiration of the useful life of the product.  Case in point: water heaters.  Depending on who you talk to, the useful life of a residential water heater can be anywhere between five and ten years.  Then there are those more expensive models that can last between 10 and 15 years.  The life of a product has to be taken into consideration, usually during the investigation phase, so as to make sure that the subrogation case will not be summarily dismissed if the case goes to court.  In the case of fires, both structural and vehicular, where the cause was electrical or mechanical malfunction; the key here is whether the equipment was recently installed or serviced by an outside service company or individual.  In the case of existing equipment, the question of maintenance will arise and become a key piece of information.  If the equipment has been allowed to go unmaintained, then it might be possible for a manufacturer or installer to argue that the operating condition of the equipment was beyond their control and they cannot be held liable.   The same thing applies to situations involving water damage.  Water damage can occur from leaking refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, and any other piece of equipment that uses water in the process. 

There are also situations that arise where subrogation is not so obvious.  Assuming that an employer is operating a safe workplace, on the job injuries can be caused by the operation of equipment that is not properly guarded.  OSHA regulations are in effect that prohibit the operation of rotating or moving equipment without proper guarding.  Such equipment includes, conveyors, wire drawing machines, drill presses, milling machines, and stamping machines.  In many instances, rotating equipment is operated with the use of pulleys or flywheels.  These components have to be matched to the rotational speed of the machine.  If the machine is operated at a speed greater than the rated speed of the flywheel, then it is possible for the flywheel to fail.  If the flywheel fails under normal loading and within its expected life, then subrogation is possible.  However, if someone in the plant has increased the rotational speed of operation beyond load limits, then subrogation is most likely not possible.  It should be noted that many smaller pulleys are adjustable and as a consequence, rotational speed can be increased to a dangerous level.  In addition failures from hydraulic hoses can occur where the operator is sprayed with hot oil.  If the hose is routinely replaced as a maintenance item but, fails during its service lifetime, then it can be argued that the hose was defective and likely warrants a subrogation claim against the manufacturer.  Similarly, pressure vessels can EXPLODE and cause property damage and serious injury.  Vessels containing air, water, oil, or any other fluid under PRESSURE must be certified for the service.  If the vessel failed during its expected life, was not over-pressurized, maintained by minimizing corrosion, and inspected on a regular basis; then, subrogation against the manufacturer is a possibility.  However, if the vessel was manufactured in house, by the insured, then any injured employees might have a design defect claim against the employer.               

Riding Lawn Mower Fire

We’re still in the middle of summer and right in the middle of lawn mowing season.  Everyone knows that lawn mowing is a necessary chore that has to be done.  Along with mowing the lawn comes keeping the lawn mower in good condition.  It’s very easy to neglect the mower once the mowing is done and not give a second thought to maintaining your mower.  So, what else is there besides changing the oil and replacing the blade every couple of years?  The answer is keeping the mower clean.  The grass clippings that accumulate on just about every surface of a mower can dry and become combustible.  But, nobody thinks about the possibility of a fire occurring after they’ve just finished cutting their grass.  The pictures below show what can happen to a riding lawn mower when it is not properly cleaned after each use.  This particular machine was stored in a warehouse when it ignited.  Luckily, the fire set off the sprinkler system and extinguished the fire before any real damage occurred.    

Riding mower engine fire caused by lack of maintenance
Dry/combustible grass debris observed on deck of riding mower

We know that the machine was not cleaned prior to storing because a similar machine was stored beside the one that ignited and also had dry grass clippings and on it.  The second mower is shown below. Fires are not limited to riding mowers. They can also occur in engine driven push mowers and large commercial machines. Keeping your mower clean is very simple to do. You can use a brush or an air blower. If your machine is equipped with a hose connection, you can wash away the debris. It really doesn’t matter what you use as long as you keep your mower clean.

Dry/combustible grass debris observed on deck of second mower
<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: