Weathering the flurry of home insurance claims this winter
With leaking roofs, falling trees and power outages, winter is often the most active time of year for insurance companies fielding claims from homeowners in Connecticut.
Consumers whose homes had weather-related damage in one of the three major storms that have walloped the region so far this winter should know when it's worth filing a claim. They should also take time to read their policies before disaster strikes, insurance agents said.
Damage caused by wind, wind-driven rain, trees or other falling objects, or the collapse of a structure from the weight of ice or snow are usually covered under most homeowners' policies, according to the state Insurance Department.
Gerard O'Sullivan, department program manager, said the agency has not yet seen a rise in consumer complaints, but noted the uptick usually comes after the worst of winter is over.
So far, State Farm Insurance has received less than 200 claims in Connecticut from winter storms, according to spokesperson Victoria Hodson.
Of those claims, 80 percent were for ice damming and the remaining 20 percent for frozen pipes, collapsed sheds and outbuildings.
To avoid having damage become uninsurable, O'Sullivan recommended people should file claims for broken windows, damaged walls, and leaking roofs soon after the damage.
If they wait until a problem becomes worse, it may be too late, he said.
Some insurance policies go as far as covering electronics destroyed in a power surge, said Brian Smith, an InsuranceEdge adviser to American Express. Interior water damage, removing fallen trees (that don't land on the house) and spoiled food caused by a power outage are typically not covered.
When filing a claim consider the size of your deductible, said Todd Rockefeller, a partner at Harrison, N.Y.-based insurance business DeRosa, Rockefeller, Sohigian & Werdal. If the fix-up cost is minimal, it may be worth paying for it yourself because insurance companies may raise rates or drop a homeowner's coverage if too many claims are filed.
When deciding which policy is best for them, consumers should consider getting liability insurance as well, Rockefeller said. If a neighbor or a delivery person slips and falls on a sidewalk, homeowners could be liable.
Also, all insurance companies require you to buy flood insurance separately, he said.
"When we get a 50-degree day and the snow melts, all this surface water will be entering people's homes," Rockefeller said.
From 1990-2009, winter storms caused about $25 billion in insured losses, according to the International Organization for Standardization. Winter storms cost $770 million in 2009, the lowest in eight years, and $600 million below the average, Worters said.
Will the insurance industry be able to absorb all of the costs?
"Absolutely," Worters said.
"The insurance industry has the capital to pay these types of claims. We are in the business of paying claims and prepare for such disasters."