Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wind storm damage: What does insurance cover?

High winds have caused damage over the past 24 hours to several areas of the state, with winds gusting to more than 60 miles an hour in some spots, and thousands temporarily without power.

From the Seattle Times:
An unseasonably strong May storm swept across Washington on Wednesday, bringing high winds, thunderstorms and even a report of a barn-shifting tornado near Moses Lake.
Every time this happens, our office gets calls from people wanting to know what damage their homeowners/auto/business insurance covers. (We're the Washington state agency that regulates insurance.)

Here are a few common questions:

Am I covered if my car was damaged by falling limbs? If your car was damaged, that damage should be covered under the comprehensive coverage in your auto insurance policy. (If you opted for comprehensive coverage, that is. Some people, to save money, just get liability coverage.)

My yard is covered with branches from the storm. None of them hit the house or my fence, so there's no property damage. But would the cleanup costs be covered in this case? Sorry, probably not. Standard homeowner's policies typically only pay for such cleanup if your property was actually damaged. In other words, your home, garage, fence, etc. would probably have to first be damaged by the debris for the insurer to pay to remove it. Standard policies don't cover the loss of trees or shrubs because of wind.

My business has an awning over the sidewalk, and it's been damaged by the wind. Is it covered? Probably, but check with your agent or insurer to be sure, since business insurance can vary a lot. Also, many business policies have business interruption coverage, which can be very useful if a covered loss forces you to close the business. But there are often deductibles or other limits, so they may not apply if the business interruption is for just a few days.

Click here for our page with tips and storm-related Q&As re: insurance.

Also: If you have damage and have questions or problems with your insurer (and live in Washington state), call our consumer affairs hotline at 1-800-562-6900. It's not a phone tree; it's staffed by live people.