Engineer Interview: Patrick Kelley on Cold Weather Claims

Q: Has there been a common theme/cause of the claims you have been looking at?  If so, what?

A:  In the past several weeks, I have been looking at a lot of cold weather related claims.  The recent periods of very cold weather in Colorado and the Four Corners area have caused havoc on wet-pipe sprinkler systems, potable water plumbing systems, and HVAC systems throughout the Rocky Mountain region.  This relatively extreme cold had exposed many construction and installation defects in both the plumbing systems and sprinkler systems of countless homes and buildings.


Q: Has the damage caused by any of these claims been extensive, say, $50K or more?

A:   Several of the freeze-related losses I have looked at have exceeded the fifty thousand dollar mark.   Freeze damage sustained to a public library sprinkler pipe fitting resulted in extensive water damage to the library and its contents.  A similar claim in Wyoming resulted in submersion of a commercial grade boiler worth more than $50,000 on its own.

Q: Do you see subrogation opportunity for any of this damage?  If so, what’s the nature?

A:  In some cases, where the construction date of the building is very recent, and the freezing of pipes in the building can be traced to poor maintenance by a hired maintenance firm, an installation defect,  an insulating or other construction defect, the potential for subrogating the loss against the builder, general contractor, or maintenance firm is relatively high.

Q: Any of the claim investigations that are particularly of interest?

A:   I enjoyed looking at a dry-pipe fire sprinkler system that had sustained a burst-type fracture consistent with being filled with water and then freezing. Also found in the sprinkler piping were numerous pinhole leaks along the bottoms of the sprinkler pipes related to corrosion of the pipe walls. Dry-pipe systems are not supposed to have water in them.  Examination of the installation of the dry-pipe system revealed that the system had been installed with improper grading, creating low points in the sprinkler system where condensate could collect and pool.  Review of the maintenance logs showed that the firm hired to maintain the sprinkler system failed to properly drain the condensate low point drains in the sprinkler system regularly, allowing the condensate to remain in the sprinkler system piping.  The combination of improper installation and maintenance of the sprinkler system resulted in the observed damage to the sprinkler piping.

{Patrick in his home office}

About Patrick:

Patrick holds a Masters of Engineering in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering with an emphasis on Physical Metallurgy and Failure Analysis, and a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and Petroleum Refining with a Minor in Environmental Science. Patrick specializes in metallurgical, materials, and mechanical failure analysis, materials evaluation and testing, product liability, design evaluation, and product testing, fire and explosion cause and origin analysis, chemical/mechanical system failure analysis, rock climbing/recreational accidents and gear failures, pocket knife failures and accident analysis.

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