After a Winter Storm: Insurance Claims And Beyond

January 17, 2014

Old home in a winter storm

Winter storms like the recent ice storms and extreme cold weather that have struck Eastern Canada, including Ontario, leave a big mess behind. Wind, snow, ice, fallen trees and other debris, and just plain cold temperatures have done a lot of damage to homes, cars, and landscaping. If you’re not sure just what insurance will cover and what you’ll be responsible for fixing, you’re not alone. The good news is, your insurance is going to help.

Getting Through a Storm

A major ice storm or any winter storm can hit hard and fast. The best thing to do is secure your home as best you can and wait it out. There’s not much you can do to stop damage, but you can try to minimize it by shoring up your defenses and trying to stop damage from getting worse.

If you lose power and don’t have any other way to heat your house, like a fireplace or wood stove, you may have to leave your home for a while. Make sure that you secure the house properly when you leave and check in on it to make sure everything is ok while you’re staying somewhere else. This way you can catch any damage early.

What Homeowner’s Insurance Covers

Most damage to your home from an ice storm will be covered under your homeowner’s insurance. If the damage is minor, you might find it’s not worthwhile to make a claim, depending on your deductible. When you make a claim against your homeowner’s insurance, you’re responsible for meeting the deductible before you start getting benefits, so how much that deductible is can help you decide if a claim is worth filing. If your deductible is $500 and the damage is in this range, you’re probably better off just covering it yourself.

Homeowner’s insurance will cover damage to the inside or outside of your home that is a direct result of the ice storm. That means if your roof is damaged by wind or ice, you can get it repaired under your insurance policy. If the damage to the roof causes a leak into your house and damages anything inside, you can claim that damage too. You’re also covered for damage from a tree that falls and does damage to your house, but who pays for that damage depends on who is responsible for that tree.

The Question of Falling Trees

Trees falling are a very common source of storm damage, and who pays for that damage depends on where that tree came from. A tree in your yard is your responsibility, so in that case your policy would kick in.

If the tree isn’t on your property, another policy is probably going to cover the repairs. If it belongs to a neighbor, their homeowner’s liability will take care of it. A tree that is maintained by the city or municipality, on the other hand, is the responsibility of that agency.

A tree that falls on a car is another story altogether. In this case, you should turn to your car insurance company. This sort of damage falls under the comprehensive portion of your policy, which is the part that handles anything other than a collision.

What happens if a tree falls but doesn’t actually do any damage? Well, homeowner’s isn’t likely to provide any help there. If it’s your tree, you will probably have to pay to have it removed.

Will a Claim Affect Your Policy?

There’s nothing you want to see less after dealing with the aftermath of a storm than an increase in your insurance as a result of your claim. Unfortunately, there is always the possibility you will see a rate increase. It’s understandably frustrating; after all, you don’t get a rate increase if you’re not at fault in an accident, and you’re certainly not at fault for an ice storm!

Homeowner’s insurance handles rate increases a little differently from how car insurance works. The fact is that most homeowner’s insurance claims aren’t the result of any fault of the homeowner. So what causes rate increases?

One of the things the insurance company will look at is claims history. Someone who has had multiple claims against their policy in recent years is more likely to have an increase. More claims make you a higher risk for the insurance company. In some cases it’s a company-wide decision. A lot of claims for a single company increases their costs, and that means they have to raise rates.

The good news is that a rate increase isn’t guaranteed. In many cases your rate won’t be affected by a claim for storm damage. If you’re on the fence about submitting a claim because you’re worried about an increase, give your insurance company a call and ask before you submit. They may not be able to tell you for sure, but they can give you a better idea of the likelihood.