Winter Storm FAQs
These answers are to questions frequently asked by consumers and address many areas of uncertainty arising from winter storms. The information is largely based on provisions contained in the typical homeowners policy sold in Missouri. (4/91 ISO HO-3) Many large insurers offer a standard homeowners policy with even broader coverage. Your policy may contain riders that either expand or reduce your coverage. The Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration strongly encourages you to contact your agent or insurer before disaster strikes regarding specific questions you may have about your policy and coverages. If you know you have damage that exceeds your deductible and you want to process a claim, you should promptly contact your company. Once a loss is reported it becomes a permanent part of the policy record regardless of the amount of the payout or the type of loss.
- What coverage is available for debris removal, power outages, lightning, frozen water pipes, water damage due to the breakage of frozen pipes, and the weight of ice and snow causing a roof, porch, or deck to collapse?
- Debris removal for trees: Generally speaking, a homeowners’ insurance provides some coverage for the removal of trees from the premises if the tree damages your home or other insured property. That coverage includes removing a neighbor's tree that fell on your property. It doesn't matter who owns the tree, just that it causes damage to an insured building or fence. Some insurance companies place a limit on the amount of coverage for tree removal, for instance, $500. Check with your insurance company for more information.
- Power outages: The typical homeowners policy excludes from coverage damages from power outages unless they result directly from covered "perils" (wind, hail, lightning, etc.). For example, if lightning strikes the house and causes a power interruption, the consequent spoilage of food in a freezer is covered.
- Lightning: Damage caused by lightning is covered.
- Frozen water pipes: The typical policy covers repair of frozen pipes and the damage they cause. An exception can occur when the dwelling is vacant or under construction unless you use reasonable care to a) maintain heat in the building or b) shut off the water supply and drain the system and appliances of water.
- Weight of ice and snow causing roof, porch, deck to collapse: The typical homeowners policy covers damage involving collapse of an insured building or any of its parts caused by the weight of ice, snow or sleet.
- What coverage must I have on my auto policy to cover repairs if ice fell on it and damaged it?
- Comprehensive coverage will pay for ice falling on a car.
- Does a vehicle's owner have responsibility for ice falling off a vehicle and damaging the car behind it?
- Generally, owners whose cars are damaged file these claims under their comprehensive or collision coverage, depending on the circumstances.
- What about car accidents occurring on the ice?
- Missouri is a "comparative negligence" state. In other words, if you file a claim under the other driver's liability policy, an insurer may find that both drivers were at fault and only pay partial costs for repair of your car. However, the Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration requires the insurer to fully investigate the accident and document its basis for that determination.
- To what extent do insurers cover your expenses if you are forced to move to a hotel or other quarters when you lose power after a storm?
- To qualify for so-called "additional living expense" payments, your home must have suffered an insured loss or physical damage from the storm. Simply losing power and heat does not obligate the insurer to pay for your hotel bills, for example. Check with your agent, adjuster or insurance company to see if you qualify for these benefits, which can total up to 20 percent of the insured value of your home.
- What if my tree branch fell on my neighbor's house and caused damage? Is my neighbor responsible, or do I make a claim under my homeowners policy?
- In most circumstances, your neighbor would file a claim under his or
her insurance policy. Your homeowners policy covers your home, not the
The same applies to costs for removal of debris or repairs for an auto damaged by falling branches: the owner of the property damaged should file the claim, not the owner of the tree. In regards to auto insurance, you must carry comprehensive coverage in order to have coverage available for fallen limbs or trees on vehicles. No coverage is available for fallen trees or limbs if you only have liability coverage on your vehicle.
If your tree was dead or diseased and you are accused of negligence for not removing the tree earlier, assigning responsibility for the damage is more complicated, and you should consult your agent.
- What if my neighbors are in Florida for the winter and their tree branch is still on my roof, or over the fence in my yard, can I cut it down and remove it? Who should pay these costs?
- Yes, proceed with cleanup. If damage occurred to your fence or roof, your homeowners policy generally will pay those costs up to $500. See "debris removal" under question #1.
- A tree fell down and landed in my yard. Is there coverage to have it removed?
- No, the debris removal provision of your policy does not apply if the tree did not damage insured property.
- What about my hot tub damaged by weight of ice and snow or freezing?
- Policy language and circumstances may vary on this issue. If you have a claim that has been denied, you may submit a completed complaint form to DIFP, and we will research the claim on your behalf.
- What about my pool damaged by weight of ice and snow or freezing?
- Swimming pools are generally excluded for freezing under most policies. Your policy may cover collapse of (above-ground) swimming pools from the weight of ice and snow.
- What about my car that was damaged at a business' parking lot when the ice slid off the business' roof and onto my car? Is the business responsible? Should I contact my auto insurer?
- In this event, document the claim, and make the business owner aware the claim occurred. The business owner's commercial liability coverage may pay this claim, but negligence on the part of the business owner would need to be established. To expedite payment for repairs, you may want to submit the claim under your comprehensive auto coverage.
- What is my duty to make temporary repairs?
- Protect the property from further damage. If repairs to the property
are required, you must make reasonable and necessary repairs to protect
the property and keep an accurate record of repair expenses. Prepare
an inventory of damaged personal property showing the quantity, description,
date of purchase, actual cash value and amount of loss. Attach
all bills, receipts and related documents that justify the figures in
the inventory. If you do not take reasonable steps to stop damage from
spreading and do not prove your costs for making temporary repairs, the
insurer may reduce the settlement or deny the claim.
If your claim is not covered, this documentation is valuable when you file your income tax return, which provides for deductions based on property losses. Furthermore, if you live in a declared federal disaster area, you may qualify for reimbursement for uninsured losses.
- Is food spoilage covered under my homeowners policy?
- The basic homeowners policy does not cover food spoilage from the simple loss of electric power, but coverage varies in policies actually sold. In some cases, you may have been asked to pay a higher premium for this additional coverage; in other cases, you weren't. Review your policy carefully so you know what your coverage limitations are regarding food spoilage.
- Do commercial policies include coverage for loss of business income, debris removal, power failure, frozen water pipes, water damage from frozen water pipes and collapse due to weight of ice and snow?
- Business policies can vary widely on the type of losses covered. You should report the claim to the insurer. If the claim is denied, ask the insurance company to provide you with the specific language that excluded coverage.
- What if my losses are not insured?
- If you suffered a loss as a result of a storm you should first
look to insurance coverage to pay any damages and costs, and you should
call your insurance agent to begin the claim and adjustment process.
However, if you discover you have inadequate coverage or incurred hotel or other costs
that insurance will not pay, and you live in a declared federal disaster area,
you should call FEMA for help.
All prospective beneficiaries must start the process by calling 800-621-3362 for federal disaster relief. It is a "teleregistration number" where operators are trained to ask specific questions of the callers. The answers to the questions are very important as they are used to classify the person's eligibility for assistance.
Under FEMA programs, individuals may be eligible for reimbursement of hotel expenses if they had to leave their home. (Loss of power under homeowners policies usually is covered only if storm damage to the residence - i.e., a lightning strike - caused the power outage and rendered the home uninhabitable.). The individual will need to call the 800 number and have receipts available for the expenses incurred. Checks are issued directly to the individual from FEMA with no state involvement.
In another form of assistance, an individual has property damage to a home or auto and has inadequate insurance coverage. They again must start with the 800 number. They will then be routed to the individual family grant program, which may make them eligible for a low-interest (3.2 percent) Small Business Administration loan or a family grant. The grants are limited to $14,800 per family, and the state (not DIFP) is involved in the grants. The 800 operators will ask questions that would lead these families to the SBA or to the state grant process.
Individuals may be eligible for federal assistance for renting a generator.
Generally speaking, individual are not eligible for assistance to cover their insurance deductibles.
- Where can I learn more about federal assistance?
- Please visit, www.fema.gov for further information on both homeowners and business owners who are disaster victims.