Navigating water damage after a pipe bursts

March 17, 2022

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By Steven Grutzmacher, general adjuster

For many public sector employees — including those with schools, municipalities, and utility districts — managing property losses may be just one responsibility of a much broader role.

Imagine being a newly appointed school superintendent. Upon entering the school building on a Monday morning, you find standing water in two classrooms, the band room, and the computer lab — with notable ceiling damage. It doesn’t take long to notice that personal computer stations, band instruments, textbooks, and furniture have suffered notable water damage.

Closer inspection reveals water pipes burst sometime over the weekend — leaving spaces unusable and valuable assets damaged or destroyed. It can be challenging to determine the cause of loss, assess the extent of damage, and work with contractors to ensure repairs and restoration are completed on a timely basis in accordance with the insurance policy. That’s where Sedgwick comes in.

Mitigate the immediate risk

Upon discovering property damage — whether from a burst water pipe, fire, or weather-related event — the first step is to address the risk and mitigate any further damage. In many cases, this will entail calling a remediation company to come out immediately to address the situation. In our school example, the remediation team addresses the broken water pipe, removes the water, and begins the drying process.

Report the loss

Once steps are taken to stop or mitigate the immediate risk, it is paramount to report the loss as soon as possible. This typically involves providing the schedule and memorandum of coverage. This ensures our loss adjusting team can arrive quickly and begin investigating to determine the origin of loss as well as the extent and scope of damage. In many instances, worn water pipes or newly installed water pipes are the culprit for the damage. In the case of the latter, our team checks for any signs of construction defect.

Minimize further damage

Ensuring that remediation is proceeding appropriately and that the proper number of vacuums, fans and other equipment are being utilized is essential. Contents that can be salvaged will be separated from the damaged equipment deemed a total loss. Luckily, there are companies who focus on restoring valuable works of art, the recovery of paper files and documents, and other specialized needs. Time is critical in such recovery efforts to minimize any further damage.

Determine next steps

The loss could be caused by a third party which introduces the potential for subrogation. This can arise due to faulty construction such as the improper installation of a sink, toilet, or roof. Again, proper investigation and documentation before repairs are made is essential. Testing for elements such asbestos, lead, or mold is needed prior to the reconstruction phase. Keep in mind, different jurisdictions have different requirements and statutes of limitations.

Once testing requirements are satisfied and a contractor is selected, the reconstruction and repair phase will begin. The number one objective is to restore and return operations to normal as quickly as possible. This again underscores the importance around timeliness of loss reporting. The sooner all parties are notified; the sooner restoration and repairs can begin.

For organizations that experience personnel turnover, be certain to designate an individual who is responsible for managing property losses and who will provide notification in the event of a loss. While managing property losses might be one facet of an individual’s responsibility, it is one that can have a significant impact on the organization’s overall ability to operate and perform. At Sedgwick, our property team specializes in these types of loss situations and stands ready to provide the expertise and support you need. For more information, visit our website or contact me at [email protected].

Tags: Coverage, Damage, Inspection, Loss adjusting, Mitigating risk, Property, Property claims, Property damage, Property loss, Public entities, repair, subrogation, View on property, water damage, water pipe