Mr. de Vries files a claim with his boat insurer: rusting through of rafters and hull due to a non-working float pump. This is just the beginning of the story….
After Mr. De Vries’ claim, the insurer has an expertise carried out. This revealed the following: in the corridor under the fore and aft sections of the ship, there was a steel collector for the drainage water from the shower area, originally containing a float pump with a separate float. De Vries, however, found that the float pump was starting too often and he had come up with an alternative solution. He had removed the original pump from the collection tank and placed it in the bilge area. In addition, he had the shower drain water flowing into the bilge area instead of the collection tank from now on. All this happened about five years before the damage report. At some point De Vries smelled a musty odor and dismantled the floor. The bilge contained a lot of water from the shower and the pump’s float appeared to be defective. Apparently at some point in the past five years the float pump had broken down and the water was no longer being pumped away. The steel ship’s surface in the bilge area appeared to be seriously corroded. It showed considerable corrosion because of the soap residue and according to the expert you could remove whole slices of rust with your hands. The plating was so corroded that it had completely rusted through and when the steel hull was knocked off, holes were made in the hull. The soapy water had also run into the box keel and aft and at the location of the heel/keg the plating had also rusted through.
The insurer concluded that the damage had been caused by gradual impact – which is excluded by the policy conditions – and rejected the claim. De Vries did not leave it at that and called in his legal assistance insurance. They argued that De Vries had maintained his boat well since the beginning of the purchase and that he could be confident that moving the float pump would not have a negative impact on the boat. Moreover, inspection of the float pump would not fall under the obligation of maintenance, and certainly not when the shower is not in use. Finally, the legal expenses insurer argued that De Vries, as a layman, did not know and did not need to know that soapy water could damage the ship’s hull. The insurer rejected these arguments and stated that it is a fact of general knowledge that the combination of water and oxygen has a corrosive effect on steel. When soap is added to this, it even worsens the corrosion process.
De Vries wanted a contra-expert opinion. The contra-expert confirmed that the corrosion process had been accelerated by the lye contained in the soap. However, he also noted that as the owner, De Vries was responsible for his property and that if he had looked under the floor earlier, he would have seen the damage coming sooner. Although the surveyor was sympathetic to the argument that De Vries could not have known that soap was so aggressive, he continued to find it strange and culpable that he allowed the shower drain and the drain water to run into his boat like that. A procedure followed. The insurer argued that the insured had seriously neglected his duty of care by not looking in the bilge space and/or checking the float pump for five years. The insurer also argued that De Vries had changed the properties of the ship himself, without consulting an expert, with apparently dramatic consequences. In doing so, he had forfeited his right to compensation. After all, the insurer had been deprived of the opportunity to accept or revise the changed insured risk.
The judge’s verdict was clear: “… she is of the opinion that you have shown insufficient care for the maintenance of the ship. It further considers that, in any event, there has been a gradual process, the corrosion, which is covered by the wear and tear exclusion. I cannot regard that view as incorrect or incomprehensible. After all, you did not, for five years after the change to the shower water drain that you yourself made, carry out an inspection as to whether the change did not lead to problems under the floor. In addition, there are good grounds for classifying corrosion as wear and tear.” Thus, the insurer was justified in rejecting the claim.
Tip: If you want to make a conversion to your vessel, always inform your insurer, get advice from professionals and do not blindly trust that the construction you have made will be sound. Trust is good, control is better!
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