January 13, 2017

Missouri Department of Insurance issues Winter Storm Guidance

Jefferson City, Mo. - Insurance is not always the first thing to come to mind when preparing for an ice storm, but it may prove vital in the storm’s aftermath.

“It is important for Missourians affected by the ice storm this weekend to perform a thorough survey of their property, document and photograph any damage and contact their insurance agent or company to begin the repair process,” said John M. Huff, Director of the Missouri Department of Insurance.  “The sooner homeowners contact their insurance agent or company following damage, the better.”

Some additional points to consider:

What coverage is available for debris removal, power outages, 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 damage 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.
  • 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 the auto.

Does a vehicle's owner have responsibility for ice falling off a vehicle and damaging the car behind it? Does the vehicle owner have any duty to clean off the vehicle before it is driven down the highway?

Generally, owners whose cars are damaged file these claims under their comprehensive or collision coverage, depending on the circumstances.

What if my tree branch fell on my neighbor's house and caused damage? Is my neighbor responsible, or do I make a claim on 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 neighbor's.  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.  Comprehensive coverage will cover cars damaged by falling trees.  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 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 federal disaster area, you may qualify for reimbursement for uninsured losses.

If I lose power due to the ice storm, is food spoilage covered under my homeowners policy?

Usually, most homeowners’ insurance policies will cover at least $500 for the loss of food when there has been a power outage due to an ice storm.  The actual coverage will vary by insurance company and in some cases, the coverage may not be automatically included.  Food spoilage coverage may only be available if you purchase an optional endorsement for an additional premium. Again, check with your insurance agent for additional information. 

For more information on insurance and winter storm damage, visit the Winter Storm section of the department's website at insurance.mo.gov or contact the department's Insurance Consumer Hotline at 1-800-726-7390.