There was a water leak at my client’s home caused by pinholes in copper tubing. The leaks occurred in the crawl space under the floor. The home was insured at the time of the leak by Nationwide.

My client realized there was a problem when the floors in her home began to sink down and separate from her walls. She called her homeowners insurer who sent engineers to investigate the claim. Based on the engineers’ report, Nationwide denied the claim. In denying the claim, Nationwide relied on the following exclusion:

we do not cover loss to property, described in Coverage A and B, resulting directly from any of the following:

e) continuous or repeated seepage or leakage of water or steam over a period of time from a heating, air conditioning or automatic fire protective sprinkler system; household appliance; or plumbing system that results in deterioration, rust, mold, or wet or dry rot.

f) wear and tear, marring, deterioration.

I suspect that neither of these exclusions apply. The water leak from the plumbing system did not cause "deterioration, rust, mold, or wet or dry rot." The water caused the joists under the floor to flex and bend, not deteriorate. The joists are still as strong today as they were before getting wet, they are now simply warped. (Think about rockers on rocking chairs are made by soaking the wood and bending it.  Those rockers are not considered "deteriorated" just because they were bent while wet).  The wetting of the wood over a relatively short period of time does not cause it to deteriorate, it merely allows you to bend it.

The "wear and tear" exclusion is equally inapplicable. The damage to the wood joists was not caused by wear and tear. It was caused by the sudden and accidental release of water – a covered cause of loss. At best, the insurer could show that the copper pipe leaked because of "wear and tear." Thus, the insurer is possibly relieved of having to replace the actual piece of copper pipe – it is not relieved of its responsibility of paying for the resulting damage.

Simply stated, the "wear and tear" exclusion only applies to the item which actually wears out, it does not apply to damage that results from the worn out item.

Finally, the damage to the joists and the floors should qualify as "collapse" under the policy, thus providing another avenue for coverage.

As with almost all of my insurance cases, in this case my client doesn’t pay me anything. If I win, the insurance company has to pay my fees and costs, and if I lose, I’ll work for free.