When a commercial building, apartment, home, residence, or other structure experiences a partial or total collapse, it can result not only in a devastating loss of the property itself but also valuable items inside—whether from the collapse or subsequent rain or other weather—and, in the worst case scenarios, may also result in personal injury, paralysis, or death. One of the worst structural failures in recent history occurred in Florida when a major seaside condominium collapsed killing over 100 innocent victims and causing far in excess of $100 million in damages.
Fortunately, such catastrophic loss of life resulting from a fatal building collapse is relatively rare in the United States (and even rarer in Texas), but smaller types of partial collapses or “cave-in” that still causes substantial property damage occurs more frequently than may be expected, for a variety of reasons that can include a construction defect, natural decay, insect damage, and severe weather. Pursuing an insurance claim after a collapse can be a complex and challenging process for any property owner. No policyholder should have to deal with an insurance company that withholds information or denies or delays resolution of a building collapse claim in bad faith, but it occurs no less often than with other types of improper coverage denials.
Discuss Your Building Collapse Claim with a Dallas-Fort Worth Attorney
If your insurance provider has denied or delayed your claim for damages related to a building collapse or partial cave-in, it is prudent to have an experienced commercial litigation attorney on your side. Going through the process of challenging the insurance company and its hired experts to obtain the settlement or judgment you deserve can be draining and complicated. Wright Commercial Litigation has experience with such matters to help guide you through the process, often on a contingency or hybrid basis. Contact the firm today to schedule an initial consultation.
Common Causes of Building Collapses in Dallas-Fort Worth
Thankfully, the collapse or cave-in of a commercial building or home is not your everyday occurrence. When one does occur though, it can be due to either preventable or completely unpredictable reasons – many of which are covered by both commercial and residential home insurance policies.
Understanding the causes of a collapse are crucial in the insurance context and for bringing a lawsuit. Standard insurance policies of all types cover an abrupt collapse or cave-in only as a special peril that typically excludes construction defects (so long as not occurring during construction) and other situations where there may have been indications the origin was known or discoverable, allowing it to have been prevented by repair. You can expect your insurance company to know those exclusions very well and be looking for any such reason to deny your claim, plus every policy has payout limits that may not be sufficient. Even if excluded from coverage or exhausting a limit, however, the collapse of a building may give rise to claims against others for creating or failing to detect building defects, products liability, negligence or professional malpractice, and multiple other areas of law. Examining the remains of the building closely to determine the most likely cause thus directly impacts the type of lawsuit a plaintiff can bring and who to sue (or in what order if having claims against several).
The potential causes of a building collapse or cave-in can be the result of events or errors that occurred at many different stages, from original design or construction to subsequent repairs or even completely unrelated random occurrences. The possibilities include:
- Architectural Defects. The process of creating a structure begins with an architect, who is responsible for ensuring the design complies with zoning laws, building codes, and is safe to the public. They must account for numerous details from structural soundness to integrating electrical and plumbing systems, and should have long-term safety in mind for all choices in design and materials. Professional errors or omissions by an architect can cause devastating failures leading to a collapse during or well after construction. Such errors may include failing to take into account climate stressors like wind, rain, humidity, and temperature extremes, or otherwise improperly calculating the “live” and “dead” loads placed on or into a building—for functional or decorative purposes—and other elements that can create long-term strain on structural integrity.
- Construction Defects. The next step after planning, design, and permitting is actual construction of a building or home. That is a lengthy error-prone process that may involve multiple construction companies with one or more general contractors, subcontractors, and their own contractors further beyond from there. Cutting corners during construction can lead to long-term issues that make a structure more likely to collapse, such as defective or improperly carried out techniques that weaken the structure directly from the start (i.e., not following the blueprints, negligently doing the work, or, worse, substituting or leaving out material to increase profit). Mistakes can also occur in the process of evaluating the need for and carrying out subsequent building or home repairs. Even minor oversights in construction or repair can create conditions that more indirectly result in a long-term weakening of a structure as well, such as those allowing the intrusion of moisture or other elements that take a toll over years.
- Hidden Decay. Even a properly designed and constructed home or commercial building can still develop structural weakness through the natural process of ordinary decay. There are buildings made entirely of wood which have stood the test of time for many hundreds of years, yet, something as minor as a tiny trickle of water through a minor roof leak or seasonal high humidity in an attic that allows water to periodically condensate can, over time, create the conditions that allow for wet or dry rot to form in wooden structures, as well as oxidation (or rusting) of metal components that can result in an unexpected collapse or cave-in of a structure. Insurance policies cover those types of losses—no matter who or what was at fault—so long as the decay was not visible such that it should have been discovered or otherwise known to the insured prior to collapse.
- Insect or Vermin Damage. Similar to hidden decay, insurance policies also cover collapses or cave-ins caused by insects, vermin, rodents, or other animals not kept as a pet (which are excluded as being under the control of an owner), so long as it was also a non-visible or hidden condition and not otherwise previously known or discovered by the insured. The typical example of this is termite damage since those insects do they work very slowly out of view and can remain undiscovered for years in the walls or attic, until revealed during renovation or repair or, else, after collapse. It would be more unusual for other types of rodents—mice, rats, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, or others—to cause damage that results in structural weakness, but that would be covered as well.
- Weather and Other Events. One of the most routine causes of a building collapse in Texas though are severe weather events. Those which result primarily from wind (such as a tornado, hurricane, or dangerous gusts of wind) are often carved out of an insurance policy to be subject to different coverages and exclusions. But a collapse or partial cave-in can also be caused by weather events like the weight of heavy rain, snow, ice, or even some more unusual occurrences—such as objects falling from the sky or too many people gathered on a roof or balcony—that are covered by most policies.
Why Insurance Companies Deny Building Collapse Claims
Along with fire, building collapse claims are some of the most expensive losses a property insurance company may have to pay (outside of severe weather causing widespread destruction), especially when it involves a commercial building or property. Depending on the size of the structure and amount of damage, the insurance policy may require a payout of many millions of dollars to the insured for actual cash value (ACV) or replacement cost (RC) of a building, but also additional valuable coverages for loss of personal property, contents, equipment, landscaping, revenue and business interruption losses, as well as loss of use of the building or costs of alternate accommodations for homeowners, plus the possibility of third-party losses or personal injury. As a result, insurance companies often look for any possible way to interpret the policy or facts to deny a building collapse claim.
One common way an insurance company may try to deny such a claim is on the basis that a “collapse,” as defined in the policy terms, did not actually occur. Most standard insurance contracts do not expressly require a building to fall to the ground in a heap though, with partial collapses or cave-ins being expressly covered and courts recognizing that even substantial impairments to structural integrity can make a building effectively so unstable as to qualify for coverage (depending on the policy language). It is important to have an attorney on your side who is experienced with interpreting contract language to shut down those types of illegitimate efforts by an insurance company to avoid paying for a building collapse or cave-in.
Insurance companies are found also of hiring expert engineers, architects, and construction professionals (many of whom are repeat customers though that are effectively captive to the insurance company) to find ways to cast doubt on the cause of a collapse or cave-in—and what an insured knew or should have discovered before it occurred—so as to exclude a claim that way. In that instance, you need a law firm who knows the right type and quality of professionals to use as a counter, and when to use them most efficiently in the context of negotiation or suit.
Wright Commercial Litigation takes a proactive approach towards investigating all property losses, including assessment of the detailed causes of a building collapse or cave-in. Knowing all the circumstances leading up to a loss allows the firm to determine all liable parties and plan out the best way to seek full compensation for you from every available source.
Bad Faith Insurance Claims in Building Collapse Cases
Issues involving a building collapse or cave-in can be high-stakes affairs due also to the availability of statutory remedies in Texas for improper conduct in processing an insurance claim. The existence of statutory interest (18% in general and 10% for certain weather-related claims) and strict timing procedures and processes an insurance adjuster must follow can result in liability also that goes beyond any policy limits due to bad faith or other improper conduct by an insurance company in connection with denying or delaying legitimate claims. When an insurance company unreasonably withholds or underpays benefits under a commercial or homeowner’s insurance policy without conducting a proper investigation, analysis, or explanation, the insured can often bring suit under the Texas Insurance Code and common law for bad faith or deceptive trade practices, with enhanced recoveries that may multiply the award several times beyond the loss or policy limits as punishment for such misconduct.
If you suspect an insurance company or adjuster handling your building collapse or partial cave-in is acting in bad faith or unreasonably delaying or denying a claim, it is important that you contact an attorney as soon as possible to hold them accountable.
Why You Need an Experienced Litigation Attorney on Your Side
Building collapse claims can be highly complex insurance disputes. Many different factors may have caused a collapse while the policy language is typically not a paragon of clarity, and there are several different types of related losses that may be recoverable as well (such as damage to personal property or contents, mitigation or temporary shoring measures to prevent further loss, costs to clear out the debris or demolish the remains, loss of use of the building or additional living costs for a homeowner, and more). With so many factors and the high value of loss affecting such claims, getting an insurance company to act reasonably on a timely basis and pay in full for all building collapse or cave-in damages is often a challenging endeavor.
Wright Commercial Litigation has the experience and tenacity to successfully advocate for you, and has done so before in collapse-related claims. The firm will first investigate to independently determine the merits and then negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf, holding them answerable for any lapses in proper claims adjudication along the way.
As necessary, the firm will work with a skilled structural engineer and other building professionals to analyze the facts critically and estimate all recoverable losses. When you enter into a engagement with Wright Commercial Litigation, you can be assured of diligent representation throughout the process of any type of insurance claim, including those resulting from a partial or total collapse (or “cave-in”) of a building, whether that involves commercial property or a home residence, and often on a contingency or hybrid basis depending on the facts of your situation and claim status.
Contact the firm here to request an initial consultation and learn more about what Wright Commercial Litigation can do to help with your building collapse claim.