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What happened when this strata unit owner got sued over toilet supply leak

On July 15, 2020, Greg Meckbach reported in Canadian Underwriter that a British Columbia strata owner is not liable for damage to the unit immediately below as a result of a burst toilet supply line, the province’s Civil Resolution Tribunal has ruled.

The September 2018 plumbing mishap happened in a strata unit owned by Xiu Feng Guan. The water flowed through the floor into a unit below. The lower unit’s owner, Li Ping Duan, took Guan to the CRT claiming Guan owes her $1,150 to repair damage.

Duan was not claiming against the strata corporation itself, which has no bylaw making owners responsible for water escaping their lot, CRT member Kathleen Mell noted in Duan v. Guan, released July 3.

So Duan’s claim against Guan is one of common-law nuisance or negligence, Mell ruled.

Duan compared the incident to being rear-ended in a motor vehicle accident, suggesting that Guan is responsible because the water came from Guan’s strata lot.

But Mell dismissed Duan’s claim against Guan. Although the toilet supply line in Guan’s unit had worn away over time, there was no evidence that Guan should have suspected this, Mell found. On the day the supply line failed, Guan’s son arrived within 15 to 30 minutes and turned off the water.

The fact that the toilet’s supply line leaked does not automatically mean that Guan, as the unit owner, was negligent. There would have to have been evidence that Guan’s actions or lack of action fell below a “reasonable standard of case” and caused the loss, Mell wrote in her ruling.

Though Duan v. Guan is a small claim, toilet supply line failures often result in damage of over $100,000 especially when they remain undetected for hours and the toilet is on an upper floor of a multi-level building.

The risk to homeowners is that a part outside the tank fails, therefore releasing water full-blast on to the floor until someone shuts it off, Paul Okrutny, a materials engineer and founder of Toronto-based Mitigateway, said in an earlier interview with Canadian Underwriter.

It is not always obvious to the consumer if there is a problem with the toilet supply line, said Okrutney, commenting in general and not on Duan v. Guan or any other specific claim. He made his comments in an interview shortly after appearing on a panel at CatIQ Connect, held this past February by Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ).

Okrutny used to work for a forensic engineering firm that investigates the origin of large property losses. He told Canadian Underwriter that one of his investigations involved about $1-million worth of damage at a high-rise apartment building because a toilet flex hose above the 40th floor failed and damage occurred on several floors below.

Sometimes toilet supply lines fail because a plastic nut comes into contact with chlorine and slowly degrades over time, said Okrutny.

In instances like these, property insurers will sometimes file subrogated claims against manufacturers, designers, suppliers, retailers and installers, Sam Biglou, a Toronto-based litigation lawyer with Mason Caplan Roti LLP, said in an earlier interview with Canadian Underwriter. Biglou was not commenting on British Columbia law or any case in particular and her comments are not intended as legal advice.

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