Water heaters are a common fixture in virtually all households. They are usually located in a garage, a basement, or a utility closet. They may be well out of sight and generally forgotten by homeowners, even though they are essential as they provide hot running water throughout the house.
While water heaters are common objects in a home, little attention is paid to them. They may be neglected, and this can lead to problems. They can often present specific risks, particularly the risk of water heater explosions and accidents that could result in fire or water damage.
For instance, a water heater can be powered by gas, just like a gas stove. So, it can explode or cause a fire if a gas leak develops and a lighted cigarette or other ignition sources ignite the gas.
Also, the potential for fire still exists even without such a leak. These types of incidents and conditions can lead to significant injuries, including burns, other serious injuries, and property damage. Electric water heaters and “waterless” versions of more recent manufacture may also present the risk of electrocution. Of course, water heater leaks or failures can lead to water damage to property as well.
Who Can be Held Liable for a Water Heater Injury?
Depending on the facts and circumstances, several parties may be liable for a water heater injury or property damage. Among those who would be the most likely candidates for liability are the following:
- Manufacturers and Distributors: The manufacturers and distributors of a defective water heater can be strictly liable if a defect in their product causes injury to a person or damage to property;
- Installers and Repair People: People who have installed, repaired, or handled a water heater, such as an independent plumbing or construction contractor, may be liable if their negligence in installing or repairing a water heater unit causes injury or property damage;
- Landlords: The owner of a rental unit and others may have a duty to maintain or repair water heaters. If they fail to fulfill their duty, they can be liable on a theory of negligence for any injury or damage caused.
For example, if a landlord knew or should have known that a water heater presented a risk of harm and had a duty to repair it, they could be liable for negligence. This would happen if they failed to maintain the heater or replace it when needed, and this negligence was the cause of injury to another person.
Would My Homeowners Insurance Compensate for the Damage?
If a third party is not liable to compensate a person for injury or damage caused by a water heater explosion, the person may turn to their homeowner’s insurance to pay for treatment of injuries and repair of the damage. A claim for compensation for a burst pipe or tank on a hot water heater or a leaking water heater tank can be submitted to a person’s homeowners insurance company if the damage could not have been predicted or was caused by a covered peril.
A covered peril is simply an event that causes injury or damage that is covered, as opposed to excluded, by a person’s homeowners insurance policy. Generally, if injury or property damage were not the result of old hardware malfunctioning or a poorly managed appliance, it would be covered.
If a claim is covered, a person’s homeowners insurance will compensate the homeowner for treatment of injuries and repair of property damage up to the policy’s limits. Much would depend on the specific language in a person’s policy.
The insurance company may hire an adjuster to investigate any malfunctioning water heater and the resulting damage. If an insurance adjuster should determine that the water heater at issue was old and well past the point at which it should have been replaced, the damages caused by an explosion, leaking, or bursting may be denied by a person’s insurance company. More importantly, if the water heater had been leaking gas or water for an extended period without the homeowner’s awareness, the claim for damages might be denied.
It is also possible that a homeowner would be partially responsible for the damages, and an insurance company may offer to cover part of the claim or opt to deny the claim.
However, again, a person can expect the damage caused by an exploding or leaking water heater to be covered by their homeowner’s insurance as long as their insurer views the incident as a covered peril.
The lesson is that a person should not neglect their water heater but should have it checked periodically by a qualified plumber. In addition, a person wants to know what is in their homeowner’s insurance policy, what it covers, and what it does not. In addition, a person wants to ensure that their policy limits, i.e., the amount an insurance company pays for a claim, are up-to-date and adequate to cover possible losses.
The replacement of a water heater is generally not something that homeowners insurance would pay for as a routine matter. The insurance is responsible for replacement only if the water heater is damaged or destroyed due to a covered peril, such as a house fire or a hurricane. This is why it is often recommended that a person purchase extended warranties on expensive home appliances that they hope to last for an extended period.
If a person’s water heater explodes and the facts do not indicate that a third party is liable for negligence or strict product liability, they may turn to their homeowner’s insurance, as noted above. An insurance company can deny the claim. It is possible that the insurance company would deny the claim in error. This is when a homeowner would want to consult a personal injury attorney to find out whether they have a claim for insurance bad faith.
What Are the Legal Remedies for a Water Heater Explosion Incident?
Water heater explosions and resulting injuries and property damage could be quite serious. If a person is close to an explosion triggered by leaked gas, their injuries could be drastic and include serious disability, scarring, and disfigurement.
In addition to personal injury, there could be property damage, possibly caused by an explosion and fire or possibly caused by water. In either case, repair of the damage might be costly.
If the injuries and their impact on the victim’s life are severe, the person may need to file a lawsuit to recover an award of compensatory damages. In most lawsuits, this is an award of money that reimburses a person for expenses such as the full cost of medical treatment, including future treatment if the person has not fully recovered, lost wages, and other financial losses.
There may be other remedies as well. For example, a water heater that malfunctions and causes injury and damage to several people may lead to a product recall. In cases where many consumers are negatively affected in some manner, a class action lawsuit may also result.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Water Heater Explosion?
The injuries and damage caused by an exploding water heater injuries and explosions can be quite serious. There may also be extensive property damage in some cases. You should consult a personal injury attorney in your area to get the help you need with an injury or damage from a hot water heater.
Your attorney can investigate and analyze your case’s facts to determine if a manufacturer, contractor, or landlord has third-party liability. They can represent you in making a claim against the responsible person or company if there is such liability.
If there is no third-party liability, your attorney can help you claim your insurance company and, if a legitimate insurance claim is denied, represent you in a lawsuit for insurance bad faith. Figuring out what has happened, who is responsible, and how to proceed can be challenging. An experienced attorney can help guide your way forward.