ICS Magazine

Thermography: Claims Adjudication's Science of the Future

September 1, 2006


Millions of dollars worth of building defect litigation is going on today, and water intrusion, which can result in mold growth, is a major issue. Infrared thermography - the non-destructive diagnostic technology that allows one to detect moisture invisible to the naked eye on or below the surface of an object - can help insurance companies to significantly reduce the cost and time required to determine, with certainty, the liability for water intrusion, and thus likely areas of mold contamination.

Four or five years ago, a lot of people thought mold was going to be the replacement for asbestos in terms of litigation after several high-profile settlements: Ballard v. Farmers Insurance Exchange in Texas and California; Darren Mazza et al v. Raymond Schultz et al, and let's not forget McMahon v. American Equity Insurance Co. et al.

While suing for water and mold damage has not turned out to be the litigation bonanza that asbestos was, it is still quite prevalent. The sheer number of claims generated forced the insurance industry in California and across the country to add riders to their homeowners' policies specifically excluding coverage for personal injury resulting from mold.

As a result, homeowners, apartment tenants and business owners have started suing for negligence, leaving builders, contractors, building managers and others, and their insurance companies, highly vulnerable to litigation.

Until recently, proving or disproving the cause and origin of the invasive moisture, what caused the damage and where it's coming from, determining whether it is covered and, if so, how much it's going to cost to repair it, has been time-consuming, expensive and often inconclusive. The process of finding the source of the moisture intrusion is the hard part, combining visual inspections, field experience in locating intrusive moisture, moisture meters, and even tearing out walls, floors and ceilings.

IR cameras, however, reduce the time required by older technologies from weeks to days. And it's hard to argue with assumptions vs. scientific information, no matter how expert you are. I myself am qualified in California courts of law as an expert witness in a number of different fields, and when you pull out the thermal pictures, boom, it's all over with. You can't argue with it, just as you can't argue with DNA evidence anymore.

IR is going to allow the insurance industry to be more exact in the data it obtains, and to be able to resolve any claims that may be occurring, now as well as in the future, more quickly and cost-effectively. A large part of the savings is in the fact that, more often than not, when infrared is involved the case never gets to court.

What does this mean for water-damage and mold-remediation contractors? Sooner or later IR technology will be recognized by plaintiff's counsel as the way to determine whether there was water damage, and if there was, whether the insurance company's certified vendors used the proper and latest techniques to address and correct the problem and to prevent further any damage, such as mold.

In the last seven years the insurance industry has gone through a major upheaval as a result of lawsuits from victims of water damage that were not properly adjudicated. From this day forward, my agency will only used a vendor or contractor who works with infrared cameras. We will not entrust any of our clients to the hands of a contractor who does not have the knowledge, the training and the equipment to properly utilize infrared thermography, simply because of the data and expertise it can provide. Based on my experience, thermography is the future in water damage and mold claims adjudication for the insurance industry, plain and simple. You can take that to the bank.