Mechanical Insurance Claims

As a marine surveyor assisting insurance companies with claims our primary duties are to determine cause of loss, scope of damage and review repair costs. The type of boat claims most surveyors receive are varied, from submersion damage to lightning strikes to mechanical failures.  No one is an expert in all experts, we all cannot be electrical and mechanical engineers, metallurgists, experts in rules of the road, lamination experts or coatings experts.  We simply need be proficient and know our limits.

The types of engines and drive systems that experience failures are varied and a good example of modern marine surveying. Further, different insurance carriers require different levels of cause or determination.  Some carriers merely need to know if the cause was mechanical (from within the engine) or external, plastic bag, submerged object, bad fuel etc…).
A recent claim for a failed diesel engine began with the discovery of plastic components in a sea strainer.  A tear down of the engine revealed a single cylinder failure, not caused by the plastic.  Interestingly the insured thought the claim may not be covered if it wasn’t caused by the plastic but this mechanical failure was not excluded by the policy. Some insurance companies require much more specific cause or determination. This can be to allow proper cover decisions or to preserve subrogation rights. In another recent claim an inboard diesel engine had been rebuilt and had been rebuilt approximately one month prior to the loss. The warranty was for six months. Our inspection resulted in the determination of a mechanical failure from a component within the engine, however this carrier required a more specific determination.  Again, the mechanical nature of the failure was a key factor.

There is no shame in not being able to more specific in a cause or determination such as this. In this case a forensic engineer was hired to attempt find “the smoking gun”.  In modern insurance claims it is important to remember the basics, develop the history, any recent repairs and the precise event details from the operator.  Be sure to separate opinions developed after the loss from consultations with varies from the facts of the actual events.  Be aware that our failure analysis skills often evolve past those of the trained mechanic, as their job is not the same as ours.  A skilled and ethical mechanic is one of our best tools cross checking opinions with other mechanics is also an option. With modern machines don’t forget the computers. Recording error messages and understanding their significance can be vital.  In a recent failure claim we were provided “compression readings” as proof of the condition of an engine prior to loss.  Further analysis revealed that these “compression” test results were a computer analysis versus an actual pressure gauge inserted in the injector tube.  So obtain the error codes but also understand their significance.