Underground Utility trenches: Pack ’em Up or Pack It In

One of Guardian’s longstanding TPA clients required technical engineering support on a recent property claim. They needed a reliable determination of cause & origin for reported water damages. The ocean-close structure is a three-story, 24-unit apartment building comprised of a combination of reinforced concrete and CMUs (concrete masonry units.) The property owner claimed damages on four of the units, alleging these ground-floor apartments had been subjected to an under-slab water leak.

Upon arrival at the property, Guardian’s engineer, accompanied by the public adjuster, completed a complete visual inspection. At the exterior, the locations of the main water shut-off valve and the utility trench were documented. Various damages were noted in each of the four subject units, including areas of floor deflection in alignment with the utility trench. Obvious prior repair work was noted as were areas of ongoing remodeling work unrelated to the water damages. Two active leaks were identified: one at a party wall where a vertical galvanized steel water supply line met with the concrete slab, the other where there was significant moisture and damp flooring. Prior photos were also analyzed: they depicted advanced corrosion of the galvanized waterline.


When a utility trench backfill is improperly compacted, under-slab leaks can cause settlement. The resultant deflection in the slab also impacts its finishes. An unreinforced slab is ever the more likely to give way. In addition to pointing out this installation defect, the final report drew attention to all prior repair works and the precise location of each, indicating they were all in connection to the settlement of the utility trench. The report also addressed some cracked floor tiles, which, based upon their location, could only be from improper leveling at installation and not the floor’s deflection. Guardian’s expert concluded that, as a maintenance item, the underground water supply line required replacement. Lack of compaction and settlement were attributable to initial construction. Prior interior repairs had already taken into account the floor deflection, rendering much of the damage pre-existing, having occurred in advance of the date of loss.


When your residential and commercial property claims are complex, you can count on the forensic specialists Guardian Group. Whether it’s because property claims pose inherent, unique risks, require greater engineering expertise, or are larger in size/square footage than your standard, everyday homeowner’s claim, Guardian’s Property & Casualty Group answers the call for fast forensic support like nobody else can. Kindly call on Guardian today.

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