HURRICANES, FLOODS AND HOMEOWNER’S INSURANCE COVERAGE AND EXCLUSIONS
As we pray for and render aid to those who have experienced the recent devastation brought forth by Hurricane Harvey, we begin to fear the threat of Irma whose uncertain path can keep it out to sea, or strike some yet unidentified portion of the East Coast. Florida appears particularly vulnerable right now. Those of us who live in coastal towns like East Haven remember well the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandi in 2012. Even if our residence was spared a direct hit, we were all impacted by the harm to our friends, neighbors and relatives. But what of the aftermath? After the storm fades and the recovery begins, if your residence suffers damage from a storm is the damage covered by your homeowner’s insurance?
As a general rule, if your home is damaged as a result of fire, including from a lightning strike; windstorm including from hurricanes or tornadoes; theft or vandalism; the weight of accumulated ice or snow; and certain other risks of direct physical loss, the loss will be covered by your homeowner’s insurer. What many people do not realize, however, is that most policies exclude flood damage from coverage. A common policy exclusion provides that the insurer is not liable for loss or damage caused directly or indirectly by “flood, surface water, waves, tides, tidal waves, overflow of any body of water, or their spray, all whether driven by wind or not”. As a result of the water damage exclusion of many homeowner policies, flood insurance is available as an alternate form of protection from flood events. The National Flood Insurance Program provides a program for homeowners, renters and business owners alike to protect themselves from flood events by purchasing flood insurance policies. Most lenders require property owners who purchase property in a flood zone to obtain, in addition to traditional homeowner’s insurance, separate flood insurance coverage. A property owner who does not carry a mortgage, or whose property is outside a flood zone may not, however, think about purchasing separate flood insurance. Recent storms have shown that floodwaters are not limited in scope by neat boundaries on flood maps. As a result, flood insurance may prove to be a beneficial addition to the protection of your property if the property is located where there is a chance of flooding, even if it is outside a designated flood zone. Every property owner or renter in such a situation is well advised to discuss the available coverage with a knowledgeable agent. That discussion should be had well in advance of a predicted storm due to the thirty day waiting period from the purchase date of the policy before the policy goes into effect.
As Florida, and perhaps other parts of the East Coast prepare for the yet unpredictable Irma, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who may be caught in its path. All are urged to follow evacuation recommendations as property damage can be repaired in the aftermath, and with proper coverage in place those repairs can be accomplished by looking to the homeowner’s and/or flood insurance policies in effect at the time of the loss.