As a property owner, the distinction between a sewage backup and a sewage overflow is important to understand and be able to identify independently of an insurance carrier. Awareness of the differences and what they entail regarding the possibility and extent of insurance coverage will help property insurance policy holders protect their interests in the event of a flood originating from a wastewater drainage line.
What is a Backup?
Sewage backup occurs when water is forced from sewer lines against gravity into a property plumbing lateral causing an overflow from a drain within a structure. Sewage backup can occur in response to sewer systems being overwhelmed by flooding due to heavy rains. In this scenario, sewage backup damage will continue unchecked until the rain slacks off and the sewer lines are able to handle the volume of water introduced for drainage.
Most homeowner and business insurance policies do not cover sewage cleanup due to sewer backup unless specific sewer backup coverage is added to the policy. Obtaining an insurance rider on a homeowners or business policy that would cover sewage backup is prudent; however, sewer backup riders generally have strict coverage limits and often will not satisfy the price of sewage cleanup, reconstruction and content replacement.
Defining a Clog and Overflow
Sewage overflow occurs when there is a blockage in the structure’s wastewater lines. Water introduced into clogged plumbing cannot escape to the sewer or septic system, resulting in sewage overflow within the structure. This sewage overflow will occur at the first drain upstream from the blockage and the resultant damage will continue and grow in scope with every flush, shower and laundry load until identified by the occupants. Once identified, the occupants should cease water usage and contact a drain cleaning contractor to clear the blockage with a power snake.
There are instances where a drain blockage cannot be cleared by a power snake due to excessive damage or collapse. Sewer line video inspections are often ordered in conjunction with a locator to identify the issue and to mark point of damage. In such instances the damaged sewer lines may need to be accessed via a dig up and replaced. Such projects generally must be scheduled to be completed several days in the future as excavating plumbers are in high demand and same day service is most often not an option. This eventuality inconveniences the occupant(s), who will not be able to use the plumbing until the lines are replaced and once again flowing freely.
Most homeowner and business insurance policies do cover sewage cleanup due to sewer overflow resulting from a blockage located within the properties plumbing system. There are policies however, that have no coverage for water events whatsoever and one would be ill advised to invest in such an agreement.
Determining Drain Overflow Coverage
Differences between homeowner’s insurance policies and commercial property insurance policies dictate the possibility and extent of coverage in the event of a sewage spill. Sewage cleanup coverage depends on and the cause of the sewage spill and the coverage options selected by the insured at the inception of the policy or added later.
Residential Homeowners Sewage Cleanup Coverage
Most homeowners policies afford coverage for a sewage clog and overflow up to the policy limit; however, there are residential policies that include no coverage for a water event of any kind often labeled Standard Homeowners Policies. Such policies afford the insured a discount on their monthly payment but leave them woefully exposed to catastrophic loss with no safety net. The discounted premiums are attractive, often luring homeowners into settling for limited coverage that they ultimately regret as water events are common and costly.
Residential homeowner’s policies universally exclude sewage backup through sewers or drains, or overflows or discharges from a sump, sump pump, or related equipment. As detailed above, most insurance policies offer a Water Backup and Sump Overflow Coverage endorsement as an addendum or rider to a residential homeowner’s policy for an additional premium. The endorsement provides coverage for water backup or sump overflow for both personal property and structural damage from water.
Commercial Property Insurance Sewage Cleanup Coverage
Business owners policies provide coverage for water that accidentally overflows from a plumbing fixture; however, damage from water that backs up or overflows from a sewer, drain, or sump is excluded. Furthermore, there would often be no coverage for damage resulting from water that overflows a drain due to a clog in a lateral pipe.
Once again, a form can often be endorsed with the Water Backup and Sump Overflow addendum, which will provide coverage for sewage backup or sewage overflow. Coverage provided for the property insured under the main businessowners coverage form, often applies to all locations and is limited to the amount of coverage listed on the endorsement. The limit on the endorsement is usually the most that would be paid out in one policy term.
Choosing Water Backup and Sump Overflow Coverage
Available coverages vary depending on the type of insurance being purchased as well as the insurance products offered by the chosen company. In addition to or instead of insurance riders, consumers may be able to opt into National flood insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), enables homeowners, business owners and renters in participating communities to purchase federally backed flood insurance. This insurance offers an alternative to disaster assistance to meet the escalating costs of repairing flood damage to buildings and their contents.
It should be noted that participation is The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is usually far more expensive than opting for a Sewage Backup and Sump Overflow addendum. Furthermore, National Flood Insurance does not negate the need for a homeowners or business policy. National Flood Insurance would be purchased in addition to property coverage, which is far more reaching and addresses liabilities not covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.
It is incumbent upon the consumer to do their due diligence and choose the coverages that best suit their needs. Addressing possible losses and adding available riders depending on circumstances that are often dictated by geographical location is critical to determining appropriate insurance coverages. For instance, if a structure with subterranean living or storage space is in an area prone to flooding, the possibility of sewage backup is far more likely than a property with a dry basement no matter the weather conditions. Properties fitted with sump pits are a telltale sign of a high-water table and when such mechanical devices malfunction or the electric power fails the result is usually flooding. Without the luxury of national flood insurance or a Sewage Backup and Sump Overflow addendum, there will be no coverage provided.
Backup or Overflow?
There is a plethora of information to digest regarding the causes of household flooding via the wastewater removal system and insurance coverages. The material above touches on several points of interest to impart at least a rudimentary understanding of the mechanisms that determine the difference between sewage backup and sewage overflow. With this information, the consumer should be better equipped to determine the most beneficial coverages depending on their set of circumstances.
Flooding via the wastewater removal system is often misdiagnosed as sewage backup rather than clog and sewage overflow by insurance company adjusters to the benefit of the insurance company. This diagnosis limits the insurance companies financial responsibility by the amount of the Sewage Backup and Sump Overflow addendum or eliminates insurance company liability entirely if the insured does not opt for the rider. These diagnoses are often made by an inexperienced adjuster who is encouraged and rewarded by his or her handlers for producing denials and denying payouts.
This knee jerk reaction to denying coverage is often simply a matter of semantics. Insurance company representatives often deny coverage to consumers by virtue of what they say rather than what has occurred. When the consumer telephones an insurance carrier to report a claim using the words ‘back up’ they are often told that their policy does not cover sewage backup and the claim is falsely denied with no further investigation. Clog and sewage overflow losses that evoke the full force of insurance coverage are routinely reported as sewage backup by unwitting consumers not aware of the snares and pitfalls awaiting them.
Insurance company representatives have an agenda, which is to deny claims to keep insurance company monies in insurance company coffers. If faced with a flood manifesting itself from a drain serving the structures wastewater removal system, contact a professional to diagnose the problem. Evidence of cause will equip the insurance consumer with information that will determine coverage without input from biased insurance company employees. This proof and understanding will determine if coverage will be afforded and if that entails the full force of the policy or a limited addendum to the policy.
Sewage Cleanup Services
Property Recovery 911 offers residential, commercial, municipal and industrial sewage cleanup services. In the event of such a crisis, contact us at (267) 808-7200, we have the experience to safely and professionally restore the site to pre-loss condition. Our specialists are on call 24/7/365 and can be on location any time of day to quickly and professionally resolve the issue. Furthermore, we deal with insurance company adjusters on your behalf to help secure coverage for flood restoration services.