Gradual damage – an uninsured event

In this blog, we focus on the important - and often misunderstood - difference between gradual and accidental damage. It is imperative that everyone with insurance understands this difference and is aware of their obligation in terms of maintaining their own property, as well as other key policy exclusions that may result in the non-payment of a claim.

To make the distinction between gradual and accidental damage ask yourself this simple question: How quickly did the damage occur – suddenly or over time?

Accidental damage is covered
Insurance is intended to cover loss or damage as a result of unforeseen (accidental) events only, meaning events that occur suddenly. Such events must be unexpected, unplanned and happen entirely by chance, and so are totally beyond the control of the insured party. This would include events such as accidental drop of items, burst pipe or geyser, explosion, spillage, discharge or leakage from tanks, pipes or apparatus of chemicals, oils, fluids, gasses or fumes including loss of such chemicals, oils, fluids, gasses or fumes.

Your insurance policy is there to help you recover from these unexpected losses and to put you in the same position you were before the loss – but it is not a maintenance plan. As the insured party, you are responsible for maintaining your property to counter any deterioration and prevent avoidable gradual damage. You are also liable to repair damage as it arises, or to report (in the form of a claim) any damage that may be indicative of a larger problem - as soon as you notice it.

Gradual damage is not covered
Gradual damage develops slowly over time, making it an uninsured event - mainly because it could have been avoided with regular maintenance. Insurance was never intended to cover losses that happen gradually like wear and tear, deterioration due to a lack of maintenance or rot and corrosion. Usually gradual damage could have been avoided by reasonable and timely maintenance to the item or property.

It is quite common for an insurance policy to include a number of conditions the insurer requires in order to sustain cover, such as the regular maintenance of a property or item. If these conditions are not adhered to, the insurer has the right to reject the claim - so be sure to check your policy wording carefully. Usually there will be obvious evidence of damage appearing over a period of time such as floor boards showing water absorption damage, rotting carpets, moldy walls or eroding water pipes.

The exception
The only exception is when the insured person was unaware of the gradual damage taking place due to the absence of any obvious telltale signs, provided it is not as a result of defective workmanship. In such cases the insurer may offer to evaluate each case on its individual merits and evidence. This sort of exception could be relevant to hidden water damage where the damage only becomes visible after a while.

To increase the likelihood of your claim being paid, it is important to notify your insurer as soon as you notice any damage to your insured properties or items.

Discuss your policy exclusions with your Garrun broker if you need any more information.