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Commercial Building Owner Claimed Earthquake Damage But His Arguments Proved Shaky

The owner of an approximately 16,000 square foot building filed a claim with his property insurance carrier. The policyholder’s claimed damages included a detached brick veneer and the falling away of bricks.  He asserted that said damages were due to one or more recent earthquakes in the area. The third-party administrator under contract by the insurance carrier asked its longtime complex claim consultant Guardian Group for a rapid property claim inspection and forensic report.


Prior to arriving at the subject property Guardian’s forensic engineer, an earthquake specialist, pulled relevant seismic activity and weather data. He also retrieved historical photographs of the site. Once at the site, he observed damage to the exterior brick veneer that included: 1) extensive efflorescence, 2) both horizontal and vertical cracks in the mortar at the façade’s protruding brick bands, and 3) a large bulge in the brick veneer with a large vertical crack in one of the corners. The latter was of utmost concern as the brick veneer had detached from its substrate and was at risk of falling from the building. Historical street views show that the issue progressively developed over the last four years Efflorescence was noted as early as 2007. The cracks in the brick veneer at the protruding bands are also indicative of detachment of the brick veneer from the substrate.

Other observations included:

  • No broken windows, missing, cracked, or displaced building materials, damaged vegetation, or impact marks on the exterior of the building
  • No visible damage to the exterior finishes
  • Cracked and deteriorated sealant with gaps at brickwork in the vicinity of the area of bulging bricks
  • Unsealed nails and coping seams along the perimeter of the roof
  • Evidence of previous repairs at the roof drain and scupper at one corner of the roof
  • No interior issues observed or reported with building finishes.


While the historical earthquake data did indicate a light shaking (Intensity IV on the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale) with a hypocenter 7 miles from the property, none of the reported damage corresponded to this seismic activity. Guardian’s cause & origin report documented all of the observed damage but noted that the damage to the brick veneer is consistent with deficient installation. The extensive efflorescence, the report made clear, is indicative of a general drainage issue of the exterior cladding, whereby water enters into the brick veneer system and becomes trapped. Guardian’s report also drew attention to issues with the installation of the metal and flashings of horizontal surfaces. In addition to incomplete flashings, there were a number of unsealed fasteners and deteriorated sealant that were observed and photographed. Issues pertaining to the copings and flashings were also construction defects which were significantly contributing to moisture intrusion and the observed damage. Additionally, due to the observed damage and the inherent safety risks, Guardia’s report also highlighted a general repair approach to underscore the importance of immediate action.


For complex property claims, insurance carriers, TPAs, and adjusters count on Guardian Group, now operating as a division of YA Group, for rapid dispatch of forensic experts, clear communication, and definitive cause & origin reporting. The now 700+ person strong team of building experts possess deep experience with large-size claims, high-risk claims, and highly complex claims. When claims cross your desk that transcend the run-of-the-mill and the everyday, the Guardian and YA Group team of personnel strategically located throughout the U.S., including Mexico and England, prove to be your invaluable resource. They provide the construction and engineering investigations and reporting that helps both carriers and their insureds understand exactly what happened and why, facilitating efficient resolution. Kindly call on our experts today.

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