A cast-iron pipe lawsuit is a legal claim brought by a homeowner that asserts cast iron pipes (within the home) caused damage to the home. Cast iron material was used for plumbing and sewage-related pipes in the construction of homes mostly before 1975.
A person may bring a cast iron pipe claim if his house was built prior to 1975 and either:
- he filed a damage claim that was denied (or underpaid) by his insurance company, or
- he discovered damage to the home and has not yet filed a claim.
The problem with cast iron pipes is that they are susceptible to falling way short of their projected lifespan. While home builders believed the pipes would last for 50-75 years, the pipes began showing damage within 25 years of installation.
A few signs that a homeowner may have damaged piping include:
- foul smells from plumbing or sewage pipes,
- broken or loose floor tiles, and
- discolored or stained carpeting.
Our California personal injury attorneys will answer the following faqs in this article:
- 1. What is the basis for a cast-iron pipes lawsuit?
- 2. What happened with Citizens Property Insurance?
- 3. Is this a class action or separate lawsuits?
- 4. What is wrong with cast iron pipes?
- 5. What are some signs of cast iron pipe damage?
1. What is the basis for a cast-iron pipes lawsuit?
There are two possible claims in a cast-iron pipes lawsuit. These are that a homeowner either:
- filed a damage claim (because of the pipes) with his insurer and it was denied or underpaid, or
- a homeowner discovered damage to his home (because of the pipes) and has not yet filed a claim.
Note that a requisite for both claims is that the homeowner’s residence was built prior to 1975. This is because cast iron was the piping material used in most U.S. homes prior to 1975. The material was used for plumbing and sewage related pipes.
Today, most new homes use PVC piping.
1.1. Claim denied or underpaid by insurance company
Many cast iron pipe system lawsuits are based on the facts that:
- a homeowner has filed a damage claim under his homeowner’s insurance policy (because of damage due to the piping), and
- the insurance company has either underpaid or denied the claim.
Please note that many insurance companies deny coverage by saying that:
- there is a “water damage” exclusion clause within the policy, and/or
- the insured homeowner failed to give the company adequate or properly timed notice of the damage.
In other instances, a company might accept a claim but then pay the insured at a lowball rate.
If claim denial or underpayment, the homeowner can either:
- try to work with the insurance company to receive a just settlement, or
- attempt to bring a lawsuit against the insurance company in state court.
In both of these pursuits, it is a good idea for the owner to:
- consult an expert (e.g. an engineer) in order to show that
- the cast iron pipes are a cause of any damage.
1.2. No claim filed
This second basis pertains to a homeowner that has:
- discovered damage due to cast iron piping, but
- has not yet filed a claim with his insurance company.
In these situations, owners should know that most homeowner insurance policies:
- require the insurance company to repair any visible water damage, and
- replace any cast iron plumbing with new plumbing.
When no claim has yet been filed, owners should document evidence of faulty piping. The same is true for any damages caused by the piping.
The homeowner should also review his insurance policy to learn the language most pertinent to his claim.
Prior to filing the claim, it is a good idea to consult with an insurance claim lawyer. Companies often try to deny coverage by pointing to certain exclusions. An insurance claim attorney will know whether any exclusions really apply.
2. What happened with Citizens Property Insurance?
An example of cast iron pipe litigation involves Citizens Property Insurance.
In about 2014, as cast iron pipe claims began to rise, this insurance company made several anti-insured business decisions. Some of these are that it:
- increased rates by 3.2% statewide,
- provided insureds money to repair damaged pipes (as opposed to replacing the piping), and
- often capped claim settlements to between $2,500 and $5,000.
In addition, the company said that all potential claimants must inform of damage within 72 hours of when:
- they knew, or
- should have known
that the damage occurred.
The company then used the language “should have known,” to deny coverage to their insureds.
Example: Pam notices a certain odor coming from within her kitchen cabinet under the sink. She takes a few days to try and pinpoint the source of the smell. After a week, Pam concludes that the odor is due to a leak in a bottle of cleaning solution.
A few more weeks go by and Pam notices a water leak from her kitchen’s cast iron plumbing system. It turns out that this cast iron pipe failure was the reason for the sewer gas smell. Pam files a property damage claim with her insurance company, Citizens Property Insurance. The adjuster denies the claim and refuses to pay for a pipe replacement because Pam – the policyholder – did not file it within 72 hours of when she first had notice of the unusual odor.
As a result of these policy changes, Citizens Property was named in thousands of lawsuits. In 2015, the company was sued, on average, by over 500 plaintiffs a month.1 About half of these lawsuits went to court with payouts being:
- three times what they would have been,
- if a suit was not filed.2
3. Is this a class action or separate lawsuits?
There is not a class action cast iron pipe lawsuit.
These are separate suits. An insured typically files a lawsuit in:
- the state in which he resides, or
- the state in which his insurance company is based.
4. What is wrong with cast iron pipes?
The majority of homes built before 1975 were constructed using cast iron piping. This was the standard of the time and the pipes were supposed to have a lifespan of 50-75 years.
The problem, though, is that the pipes began failing and breaking down way short of their projected lifespan. Most often, the pipes began to show damage within less than 25 years after their installation.
Corrosion is the main cause of failure. This includes corrosion both from inside and outside of the piping. As the pipes corrode, they become thinner and more susceptible to cracking since they cannot withstand pressure from within. They have led to many slow drains, water backups, and water damage claims.
5. What are some signs of cast iron pipe damage?
The following are a few signs that a homeowner may have damaged piping:
- foul smells from plumbing or sewage pipes,
- discolored or stained rugs or mats,
- clogged drains,
- raised floor tiles,
- warped wood flooring,
- water-stained floor tiles, and/or
- rodent or pest infestation, especially in moisture-rich environments.
Since cast iron pipes are underground, or behind walls/cabinets, homeowners are encouraged to inspect their home for any of these issues. If discovered, they should report them to their insurance company. A plumber may be able to help identify failing cast iron pipes and other drain pipe problems.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with an insurance claim attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
- See, for example, “Cast Iron Pipe Lawsuits.” Consumernotice.org.
- See same.