WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2016 – The Atlantic seaboard is getting pummeled by a massive blizzard that many have already dubbed “Snowmageddon 2016.” Other parts of the country have been getting historic amounts of rain and snow as well this winter, and high winds and even winter tornadoes are also wreaking havoc. Worse still, floods are almost a certainty in many of these unfortunate locales.
Today, most people assume that because a disaster happens, resulting in damage to their homes, their homeowners’ insurance will pay for any type of damage that has occurred. Unfortunately, in most cases, the answer is “No.”
Basic homeowners’ insurance policies cover a very limited and specified list of damages.
Regular homeowners’ insurance policies usually do not cover flood damage from natural disasters. Indeed, flooding of any kind is not routinely covered unless you have specific flood insurance protection needs that are specified in your policy.
For example, in order to obtain a mortgage, individuals living in areas where floods are common are often required to obtain a special flood insurance policy managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Even if it’s not required, however, homeowners should consider purchasing flood insurance. The cost may be a factor, and it should be compared to the potential risk. But ask your agent to provide more details before you make your decision.
What most homeowners’ insurance policies will typically cover is damage from storms — wind, hail and lightning. That said, water damage from plumbing malfunctions is another story, but not necessarily if the plumbing failure and flooding resulted from a storm.
A basic homeowners’ insurance policy (often called HO-1) generally covers your home and possessions if they are damaged or destroyed by:
- Windstorm (unless you are living in a hurricane zone)
- Malicious mischief
An upgraded policy (often called HO-2) can additionally include coverage for the following:
- Falling objects
- The weight of snow, ice or sleet
- Flooding from your appliances, plumbing, HVAC and fire-protection (sprinkler) system
- Damage to electrical parts from power surges not caused by lightning
- Glass breakage
- Abrupt collapse (example, from termite damage – but make sure it says “termites”)
The most comprehensive coverage (called HO-3) covers you for everything except:
- Routine wear and tear
- Nuclear power plant accidents — (but there is a federal law that provides compensation)
- Sewer backups (sometimes you can get expanded coverage)
- Sinkholes (Florida is the only state where this coverage is required, while Tennessee requires companies to offer this coverage)
- Sump pump failure (but maybe a claim also exists against the sump pump manufacturer or installer)
- Mold (sometimes you can get expanded coverage)
A new concern for homeowners is damage from terrorist attacks. Nuclear, biological, chemical or radioactive weapons are considered “acts of war” and are therefore not covered. Careful analysis of such situations, however, naturally follows, because damage from explosion, fire and smoke—the most likely types of damage from a terrorist incident—are usually covered “perils.”
if the loss is covered, your insurance company will typically reimburse you for damage to or loss of your personal property. Items such as furniture, clothing, sporting goods and electronics would be included.
If damage occurs rendering your home uninhabitable and if the loss is covered by insurance, the insurance carrier will usually reimburse you as well for the costs of alternate housing and living expenses. The insurance will pay for repairing or rebuilding your home, including electrical wiring, plumbing and heating and air conditioning systems. As well, detached structures, such as garages, sheds and fences would be covered.
A key question to ask, however, is whether your proposed or existing policy covers assessed value or replacement value. The latter is a more desirable feature, as replacement costs almost inevitably rise over time.
In summary a standard homeowner’s policy will cover losses to:
- The structure of your house
- Your personal belongings
- Liability protection
- Additional living expenses
Understand that every state has different requirements and every insurance company offers different policies. The only way to know what is and what is not covered with near 100 percent certainty, is to actually read your policy.
Once you’ve thoroughly read your policy, you may want to set up an appointment with your agent to go over your coverage and fill any gaps or holes you discover in your insurance safety net.
Remember: Insurance companies are not your friends. While the individuals working at insurance companies are often people who genuinely want to help, the company’s officers or managers who make the final determination on whether damage is covered under terms of the policy will often default to “not covered” unless the situation is extremely obvious.
Know your rights, and demand that the insurance company fulfill your policy. But remember: the best time to make these demands is not after damage actually occurs. You need to have that conversation with your agent before the next big storm arrives.
Above and beyond the language in your policy, ask your agent specific questions in plain language: “If this [event] happens, am I covered?”
Write the question and answer down and ask the company representative to sign it, or record the answer on your cell phone. That way, should disaster strike, you’re not standing there frustrated, uselessly arguing, “but you said…”
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website: http://www.samakowlaw.com/book.