I was sitting on the chair at the barbershop the other day and listened to my barber give me an account about his recent experience with a pipe leak at his home. My barber told me that he awoke one morning to discover dampness on the floor only to learn that a pipe connected to his upstairs wet bar had burst causing water to flow to the downstairs level as well. Naturally, my first question was “Is your insurance covering the damage?” Fortunately, his response was yes.

This or something similar has happened to most of us at one point or another. It is good to keep in mind that damage caused by a leaky pipe is not always covered under a homeowners policy, and is commonly excluded. Typical exclusions are written as follows:

We do not insure for any loss to the property . . . which is caused by . . . continuous or repeated seepage or leakage of water or steam from a . . . plumbing system. . .
* * * *
This peril does not include loss or damage . . . caused by water or the presence of water over a period of time from any constant or repeating gradual, intermittent or slow discharge, seepage, leakage, trickle, collection or overflow of water from any source, even if from the usage of any plumbing …

Most policies only extend coverage for “sudden and accidental” discharge or overflow of water from a plumbing system. The exclusion based on seepage and leakage applies to the gradual breakdown or disintegration of a pipe as opposed to a sudden rupture.1 Therefore, to determine whether coverage exists, the key question to ask is whether the pipe break occurred suddenly (e.g., a sudden pipe burst or rupture) or the pipe gradually broke or gave way. Coverage should be provided if your situation is the former.

1 Finn v. Continental Ins. Co. (1990) 218 Cal. App. 3d 69.