Damage caused by toilet overflows in homes and businesses can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. The question is, is such damage covered by property policies? Guess what? The answer is, it depends. As always, it depends on what the policy in question says. Generalizing about whether toilet overflows (or about any other kinds of loss) is a waste of time.

Let’s explore three examples using “ISO standard” policy forms. Here are the applicable exclusions in the current editions of three ISO property coverages:

ISO HO 00 03
“Water or waterborne material which backs up through sewers or drains or which overflows or is discharged from a sump, sump pump, or related equipment;”

ISO BP 00 03 (BOP policy)
“Water that backs up or overflows or is otherwise discharged from a sewer, drain, sump, sump pump or related equipment;”

ISO CP 10 30 Special Causes of Loss Form
“Water that backs up or overflows from a sewer, drain or sump;”

Note that the language in each form is similar, but the slight difference makes all the difference in the world in coverage. The ISO HO policy splits backup and overflow damage. The backup exclusionary language only applies to sewers and drains and the overflow exclusionary language only applies to sump or related equipment. Therefore, the overflow portion of the exclusion does not apply to a toilet overflow since a toilet is not sump or related equipment. Also, there is no backup (i.e., “reverse flow”) in a toilet overflow… the water from the tank has nowhere to go when the toilet/drain is clogged, so we get an overflow, not a backup.

On the other hand, in the ISO BOP policy, damage arising from any equipment related to sewers, drains, and sumps is excluded whether such damage arises from backup or overflow.

Then we have slightly different language in the ISO CP 10 30. Like the ISO BOP, it combines both backup and overflow but limits the exclusion to sewer, drain or sump backup or overflow, omitting the “related equipment” catch-all. I’d say a toilet is equipment related to a sewer line, but is a toilet a “sewer” or a “drain” or a “sump”? Arguably it’s not. So, it’s possible that the CP 10 30 language does not ambiguously exclude an overflowing toilet.

What do you think?

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Bill Wilson

Founder at InsuranceCommentary.com
One of the premier insurance educators in America on form, coverage, and technical issues; Founder and director of the Big “I” Virtual University; Retired Assoc. VP of Education and Research from Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. Reprint Request Information

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