Homeowners insurance policies ordinarily exclude losses caused by water or sewage which backs up through sewers or drains. Does it follow that all water or sewage that infiltrates a home through sewers or drains constitutes excluded back up?

In Windows v. Eerie Insurance Exchange,1 insureds brought an action against their homeowners insurer to recover for breach of contract after the insurer denied a claim for losses caused by an infiltration of raw sewage and water into the insureds’ home. The insurer maintained that the policy’s exclusion for water damage precluded coverage because the backup of sewage and water through the sewer system and drain in the insureds’ basement caused or contributed to the insureds’ losses. According to the insurer, a “back up” under the policy occurs whenever water or sewage, regardless of its origination, flows into a dwelling through drains or pipes that normally carry such effluent out of the premises. The insureds contended that water or sewage “backs up” only when it returns to the premises from whence it came.

Ultimately, the court disagreed with the insurer and held that the exclusion for losses caused by water or sewage which backs up through sewers or drains was ambiguous as to whether “back up” referred to water or sewage returning to the premises or simply flowing in the opposition direction. The court ruled the insurer failed to meet its burden that the exclusion unambiguously precluded coverage for the insureds’ losses.

To learn more about other water intrusion scenarios where coverage is frequently wrongfully denied by insurers, join us this Thursday, November 14, 2019, at the Molly Pitcher Inn in Red Bank, New Jersey, for the Fall Meeting & Seminar of the Professional Public Adjusters Association of New Jersey (“PPAANJ”).

Click here for more information about PPAANJ and to sign up for the Fall Meeting & Seminar.
1 Windows v. Erie Ins. Exch., 161 A.3d 953 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2017).

  • Bruce Holmes

    This is not a real big problem in FL. I have had a couple of cases. Even with the utility being made responsible, FL sovereign immunity limits governmental entities liability to $100K, I believe. Here is one solution and there are a number of companies that make these back-flow prevention valves. Sewage in your house is a horror show for sure.


  • Stephen Sarasohn

    If the blockage is on the insured premises, it’s considered “water escaping from a plumbing system”. If the blockage is off the insured premises, it’s “back up of sewers or drains”.

    • Bruce Holmes

      If the backup is on the premises you first statement is correct.

      If the sewage backs up from the utility lines into the supply line of the owner and then into the house that is the responsibility of the utility department, but they usually have in their terms of service an indemnification of the supplier by the user. The State of Florida provides limits of liability for its units of government and there are procedures for such claims contained in Florida Statues Chapter 768.28