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Construction Insurance Bulletin
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What Needs Insured On A Demolition Site?
Insurance for demolition work almost sounds like an oxymoron: If the plan is to blow the building up, what is there to insure? The irony is that demolition is actually one of the most demanding areas of construction when it comes to comprehensive insurance coverage. What happens when you build a shed in the wrong spot? You have a shed in the wrong spot. But what if you plant the explosives in the wrong spot? Safely destroying a building demands the same knowledge of engineering and architectural structure as building the structure did in the first place, and the bigger the job, the more that can go wrong if you're not 100% certain of what you're doing.
The first things that come to mind when you think of demolition insurance are probably the neighboring building, and liability coverage to make sure that you're protected should a worker or a bystander sustain an injury. The equipment used in a demolition job also needs to be insured. You wouldn't guess that wrecking balls and concrete pulverizers are delicate instruments, but a lot can go wrong when using a machine that was built solely to smash into brick buildings.
There are also considerations of damages done to municipal property. It's not unusual for sewer and power structures to be damaged in the process of building demolition. For some, this is the tricky part: Is municipal property covered by its own insurance, or will the demolition team need to take out a policy of their own? In the event of private citizens doing damage to public property, the damages are typically paid for by the person who damaged it, whether that means an individual running over a stop sign, or a demolition crew destroying a public street. There was a story in 2011 in Indiana, for instance, when the state's Department of Transportation sent invoices to around four thousand drivers who had damaged guard rails, traffic signs and other municipal property. In other words, this is just another area where comprehensive coverage can come in handy.
Demolition insurance can also refer to insurance that covers buildings in the event of severe damages due to factors like storms, flooding and random accidents. Demolition insurance protecting a building against unwanted damages may include debris removal, which is usually the demolition crew's job when you're tearing a building down on purpose.
HMS Insurance Associates, Inc.
When you watch primates at the zoo, swinging from vine to vine, they look incredibly graceful, don't they? You'd never guess, then, that when researchers x-ray older primates, they find a lot of signs of broken bones. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, whether you're grabbing a vine that wasn't as securely attached as you thought, or you're putting the dynamite just a few yards to the left of where it goes. Here's what can go wrong when the demolition team makes a whoopsy:
"I Barely Nudged It!"
Early in 2015, footage uploaded to Liveleak showed a demolition crew in China attempting to tear down an old seven story building when a small digger accidentally struck a supporting wall, sending the building crumbling down in plumes of dust and debris, and the workers scrambling for cover. The entire building came down in mere seconds. Buildings being torn down are usually in a dillapidated state to begin with, and sometimes the scariest mistakes happen before the explosives have even been planted.
The Leaning Tower of Russia
In late 2014, an illegally built 10 story tower in Sevastopol was set to go down with a controlled explosion. Knowing that people would gather around to see the building destroyed, public safety was top priority, and the demolition crew chose to use a weaker explosive charge than what would usually be recommended for the job. Unfortunately, the blast only knocked out enough of the structure to leave the tower looking a bit like a bendy-straw, tilted just a few degrees off center about half-way up. Footage uploaded to the Daily Mirror shows witnesses laughing as the building fails to come down.
House Survives Tornado... Then Gets Accidentally Destroyed By Wrecking Crew
Sometimes bad luck misses the first time, so it comes back to try again. That's what happened earlier this year in Texas, when a woman whose home had miraculously been one of the few in her neighborhood to survive tornadoes last December came home to find the entire place torn down by a demolition company who had the wrong address. They were supposed to be tearing down a damaged house about a block away. She's still waiting on the demolition company to help her out, and would rather not be pushed to pursuing legal action.
Whether we're talking about misplaced explosives, not enough explosives, clerical errors or just nudging a building in the wrong way, there's a lot that can go wrong on a demolition site.
HMS Insurance Associates, Inc.
How Construction Has Changed In The Last Century
Construction, like any profession, is an ever-evolving trade. We don't build homes today in the same way that we built homes one hundred years ago anymore than we still go to the dentist and the barber in the same building. Certain techniques and materials fall out of favor while new techniques and materials are developed. Even the layouts of new homes are subject to change over time. Here are some of the biggest ways construction has changed over the last hundred years:
Windows are one of the biggest changes in housing construction over the last century. Glass has gotten much lighter and much stronger, starting around the turn of the century. Specialty tinting have further allowed windows to insulate a home without the need to be especially thick. Specialty tinting can also help to keep UV light from damaging interior decor.
Efficiency of Space
Homes have gotten more energy efficient in the last couple of decades, but they've also gotten much more space-efficient. Many homes today have a kitchen, dining room and living room that all flow together in the same general space. This wasn't usually the case 100 years ago, when the kitchen was more likely to be closed off in its own space.
Incidentally, the era of the "big house" in the 20th Century was fairly short lived. Today, developers are building homes and apartments smaller than they did thirty, forty years ago, but the glory days of the American suburban sprawl were fairly short lived. Row houses were first built in the 1800's and were shaped a bit like modern trailer and pre-fab homes, stretching only 19 feet across and going back about 30-40 feet. Today it seems that the most fashionable homes tend to be rather small, rather than the sprawling bungalows of the 1940's set on 60 by 100 feet of land. It wasn't until the 1960's that it was taken for granted that each child in a family could have a room of their own.
And then, there are things that stay about the same. We're still building homes from bricks and wood, as we did 20, 100, 500 years ago. While the techniques, the design, the technology may change over the years, the fundamental basics of construction have generally remained the same. Moving farther into the 21st Century, we're likely to see more homes being built for solar just as homes are built for electricity and indoor plumbing today, and we'll likely see more innovative, efficient uses of space.
HMS Insurance Associates, Inc.
What You Don't Know About Famous Liability Cases
We tend to think of it as a problem of the social media age that people only read the headlines, they never look at the actual story. Well, the truth is that we've always been this way. In the 80's and 90's, we would listen to Johnny Carson and David Letterman riff on news stories and we'd wind up taking their jokes as fact, maybe embellishing it with some assumptions we'd made, and before long, a news story has become an urban legend. Here are three major liability stories that we've pretty much all gotten wrong:
McDonald's Hot Coffee Case
This is perhaps the most famous liability case in recent history. The story we all heard on late night television was that an old lady spilled some coffee on herself and squeezed McDonald's for millions of dollars. The truth is that McDonald's had received hundreds of complaints over their scalding hot coffee, the woman had initially only solicited the fast food chain for $800 to cover her skin grafts (yes, she actually suffered serious injury in the incident). When it became a courtroom drama, she tried to settle for $20,000. McDonald's refused, not wanting to set a precedent that would make them responsible for any future injuries. Finally she wound up taking home just $640,000, minus what she had to pay for her medical bills, of course.
Worker Sues Ladder Company
It was actually 60 Minutes that reported this one: a worker mounted a ladder in frozen manure, and when the manure melted throughout the day, the ladder slipped and he injured himself. That's a funny story, so that's the one that spread, not the real one: That the ladder actually broke with the weight of just one adult man on it. With that in mind, it's easy to see why the manufacturer got sued.
Lady Bankrupts Town Tripping On A Pothole
The story that we heard was that Sally Stewart was shopping in Reeds Spring, MO. Stewart tripped on a pothole in the street and sued the small town, bankrupting the entire village. The reality: The pothole was actually in the sidewalk, not the middle of the street, and it was covered by grass, and Stewart required expensive surgery to repair the injury she sustained. And she didn't sue the town, she sued the owners of the store where she tripped, and it was the court that decided that the city be held responsible. And the town wouldn't have had to pay a dime if they'd had insurance. And the mayor at the time of the incident was Joe Dan Dwyer, who'd actually made his own fortune from a personal injury settlement, and who soon left office under investigation for insurance fraud. And the mayor told Stewart "you will probably have to sue us" if she wanted the town to pay for her surgery.
HMS Insurance Associates, Inc.
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