The subsiding extension
Several years ago I represented a woman from Limburg. An extension to her home had started to subside and break away from the rest of the house. The much older house had been extended by the previous owners more than 25 years earlier. The extension included the toilet for the property. My client attempted to make a claim from her insurers.
Several experts examined the property on behalf of the insurance company and they decided that the extension had subsided due to an error in construction. Due to the subsidence, underground water pipes were damaged and burst and this caused the extension to subside further. The subsidence was not, therefore, covered by the insurance. Damage due to an error in construction must be recovered from the sellers of the property. However, the limitation period for claims due to errors in construction is 20.5 years. This meant that my client faced being left with the bill for the damage, which amounted to several hundred thousand euros.
When my client engaged me to deal with the matter, my first action was to make use of a clause in the policy terms allowing the policyholder to obtain a second opinion on the cause of the subsidence at
the insurer’s expense. The expert we engaged concluded that there was no error in construction but the original cause was an earlier leak. This made the ground soft and allowed the extension to subside.
Further investigation of the area revealed that old pipes ran under the ground, which were known to have a maximum useful life of 20 years. This 20-year period had elapsed some years before. It was therefore quite possible that these pipes had burst due to wear and tear, causing water to be released into the ground and the extension to subside. Damage due to a leak was one of the matters covered by the insurance.
On reviewing the policy terms we discovered that where two experts had produced contradictory reports it was possible to engage a third expert, at the expense of the unsuccessful party, whose advice would be binding. Another expert was duly engaged, the two existing experts explained their positions and the third one began an investigation. More than 18 months after the damage occurred, the final decision was given. There was no evidence for an error in construction. The most logical explanation for the subsidence was a leak due to wear and tear in the underground pipes.
So my client’s losses were covered and she was able to breathe a sigh of relief. The insurer had to cover all damage to the property. Three years after the issue arose, following a lengthy debate about the cost of the damage, my client finally had a downstairs toilet again.
This case shows that it is always very important to read the insurer’s (generally long-winded and difficult to read) policy terms carefully. It can save a lot of expense. On top of this, certainly when insurers are involved, generous amounts of patience and stamina are also required. But in the end persistence pays off.