Water damage - more extensive than just “tap water”

In home contents insurance, "tap water" is listed as one of the insured risks. We have discussed this in great detail elsewhere. However, water damage includes more than just "tap water that has escaped contrary to regulations". If something is on fire, you can see it immediately. A hole in your water pipes, not so much. 

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Gradual damage - the creeping danger

Gradual damage can be a case for your household contents insurance as well as for your private liability insurance.

As the policyholder, you have the obligation to take the necessary steps to limit the damage immediately. If a candle falls over, you must try to extinguish the fire. If the hose on the washing machine tears in your presence, it’s your responsibility to turn off the water. However, damage may occur that is not immediately noticeable. It’s not possible to take immediate action to limit the consequences as you don’t know that damages have occurred.

This damage is co-insured by the inclusion of so-called gradual damage. What’s that?

Water - quiet but constantly destructive

If a crack occurs in a water pipe laid in the masonry, water will leak out. The annoying thing is, you don't realise at first. Water damage like this can drag on for months before you notice it.

In the case described here, this does not affect you financially, as it is a matter for the associated residential building insurance. However, it can also happen that you are considered the cause of the damage.

  • You have moved into a new apartment. As a cautious person, you check with a metal detector where pipes or cables could run under the plaster before you start drilling. The idea was to lay cables along the wall on hooks so that they are not visible on the floor under a cupboard. You hang the cables, the cabinet is in place and you are satisfied.
    A few months later, you wonder about a discoloration on the side of your cabinet. You touch the wallpaper and notice that it’s damp. Your nightmare comes true when you move the cupboard to one side. Despite all the precautions you’ve taken, you’ve obviously damaged a water pipe. Over the last few weeks, water has slowly but surely seeped out and the masonry has become damp. In addition, the back of your cupboard has suffered and mould is spreading due to the moisture.

In this case, it is classic gradual damage. Two things have happened:

  • You have damaged your landlord's property.
  • Your own cupboard has been damaged by water that has leaked contrary to regulations.

You cannot be accused of gross negligence because you used a metal detector in advance. On the other hand, you are not a sanitary specialist or drywall builder. Fortunately, you have also chosen to waive the plea of gross negligence in your household insurance.

Your German liability insurance will cover the damage to the building within the scope of "damage to rented property". Your household insurance will cover the cost of a new cupboard.

  • Gradual damage can also occur in the area of home contents insurance. Your dishwasher is connected to the drain under the sink behind a small cupboard. The seal on the drain connection has loosened. The water does not flow out as a torrent, but drop by drop. Very few people look behind cupboard panels every day. You only notice that something is wrong when the laminate in the kitchen starts to warp. In this case, too, your household contents insurance will cover gradual damage in the classic sense.

Environmental damage - a matter for private liability insurance

Environmental damage is of a multifaceted nature. In the insurance industry, however, this does not include environmental damage through CO2 emissions rather, in most cases, damage caused by soil contamination.

The contamination can occur suddenly and immediately. A bucket of lye tips over, or you knock over a petrol canister and petrol leaks into the ground. You can now look over your shoulder and hope that nobody saw it. However, if a report is filed, you will be held liable. Nevertheless, in this case you can hopefully act immediately and remove the contaminated soil with a shovel.

Water damage does not always result from tap water.

Personal liability should include environmental liability for oil tank owners

The situation is different for owners of oil tanks. If an oil tank leaks, it might not be visible immediately. The tank loses oil drop by drop, which is not immediately visible to the owner on the oil level gauge.

Every policyholder who owns an oil tank should make sure that this risk is included. Unfortunately, many insurers set limits of 3,000 litres or 5,000 litres.

Luko's personal liability insurance does not maximize this risk.

Depending on the type of oil leaked, one drop contaminates between 600 litres and 1,000 litres of groundwater very gradually. The consequence is that when the damage is detected, the soil must be removed and decontaminated.

Even though the figures are somewhat old, in 2010 the German Insurance Association (GdV) reported 368 accidents involving heating oil. How many of these were immediately noticed and how many were gradual damage was unfortunately not quantified.

The average amount of damage was 4,500 euros. However, the number is likely to be moderate because some damage was noticed immediately, for example when filling the oil tank. However, there was also damage in the six-figure range - gradual damage with a large number of contaminated cubic metres of soil.

Liability for gradual damage even long after the occurrence of damage

If contamination of the soil is evident and the polluter is subsequently identified, he is liable. This applies not only to private land, for example that of a neighbour, but also to public space. For example, the property with the defective oil tank borders a park, where the soil is also contaminated by the oil. As part of the insurance cover, Luko Private Liability also regulates public law claims according to the Environmental Damage Act (USchadG).

Gradual damage not consequential damage

The gradual damage can be consequential damage (hole drilled in the water pipe), but does not have to be. We still need to distinguish between gradual damage and consequential damage. Consequential damage occurs when so-called "impact damage" occurs above and beyond the primary damage.

Let’s assume that there’s a storm. A tree falls and breaks a window. This would be the primary damage. Rainwater entering through the broken window damages the parquet flooring. This would be the consequential damage.