Tag Archives: homeowner’s policy

Surviving the Loss of Your Home

I lost my home in the 1991 firestorm in Oakland, CA. With wildfires now destroying others’ homes in California, my heart goes out to the homeowners whose homes are damaged or destroyed by fire or other disasters, to the firefighters and to others who have risked and are risking their lives. I also feel for the communities that will experience the devastating aftermath.

While I am an attorney who specializes in handling insurance claims for policyholders, the loss of my home showed me the stresses and challenges of handling my claim with my insurer, as well as those facing many other Oakland firestorm survivors whom I assisted with their claims.

Those whose homes are damaged or destroyed will face many challenges in the coming days and months — temporary shelter, replacement of necessary items, disruption of their lives caused by having to relocate, and the repair and rebuilding of their lives and homes.  I would like to offer some professional as well as personal advice in the hope I can be of some assistance.

Likely, none of you have read your homeowners insurance policies previously.  I am embarrassed to say that I had not read mine prior to the Oakland firestorm, and I am, as they say, in the business.  Do not be surprised when you attempt to read your policies if you have difficulty understanding them, despite their claims of being written in “plain English” or “easy to read” format.  Even professionals do not agree on every policy interpretation, and no one is born with an innate understanding of insurance or how to pursue their personal insurance claim.

Your homeowners policies provide a few basic coverages for your home, other structures, additional living expenses, and personal property.  Initially, you will want to focus on obtaining an advance from your insurer to cover immediate necessities, including food and lodging.  Most insurers involved in a catastrophic loss will readily issue advances from your contents and additional living expense coverages, usually in the $5,000-$15,000 range.  In fact, many insurers will set up local catastrophic loss command centers to handle requests in your community.  The easiest way to communicate or locate your insurer is to contact your insurance agent or broker.

Additional living expense coverage covers your expenses when you are dislocated from your residence as a result of its being destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.  This coverage is usually limited by a dollar limit or a maximum time. Such coverage typically covers either your actual out-of-pocket expenses, such as increased meal costs, increased cost of commuting from a different location, cost of temporary residence, etc., or the reasonable rental value of your former residence.  Most insureds opt for the latter method of determining their additional expense coverage as it is simpler, less time consuming to document and usually yields a greater dollar recovery.

You will need to immediately replace certain essential items, such as toiletries and clothes.  Most insurers will give you an advance on your contents claim with no specific proof of loss other than proof that your home was damaged or destroyed.  As time progresses, you will be required to document your loss on an itemized basis.  Most of you will have replacement cost coverage, which means you will, upon proof of replacement, be entitled to the cost of replacing lost items up to the limits shown in your policy.  For items that you do not immediately replace, the insurer usually will pay you “actual cash” value for those items.

This means that the insurer will determine the replacement cost of the item and then depreciate it for use, age or obsolescence.  If you subsequently replace the item, you can then send the insurer a copy of the receipt and receive the difference between what you were paid by the insurer shortly after the loss and what you spent to replace it.

A frequently asked question is:  What is the replacement cost of an item that is no longer made?  You are entitled to replace such items, subject to your contents limits, with items of like kind and quality.

Eventually, you will be dealing with the cost of repairing or replacing your home.  The first item you will likely have to deal with is removal of debris.  Almost all policies provide coverage for debris removal as either a percentage of the limits for the house or in addition to the limits for replacement of your house.

Next, the insurer and you will be working on determining the cost of rebuilding your former home.  Many of you will have a form of replacement cost coverage that will give you the replacement cost of your home up to some percentage in excess of your stated policy limits.  Such an increase in coverage is typically 125% of stated limits.  Additionally, most of you will have coverage for other structures, such as detached garages, decks and fences, with an additional coverage limit, usually referred to as “other structures” coverage.  Many of you will also have coverage for code upgrades, although such coverages will also have limits.  You will likely have coverage for landscaping.  Even if you had native or natural landscaping, you are entitled to have it replaced subject to the terms of your policy.

An issue that many of us dealt with in the Oakland firestorm is that policies that provide replacement cost coverage usually require you to replace the structure before you are fully compensated, although you are provided some monies on an actual cash value basis in the interim. This posed a significant challenge for those who were less affluent, because they were financially incapable of fronting the monies necessary to complete their homes.  After some negotiations and with considerable help from the then Insurance Commissioner, now U.S. Congressman, John Garamendi, the insurers agreed to either finance reconstruction costs as building progressed or advanced funds.  Most insurers will reach similar agreements in response to the current situation.

Some of you may not wish to rebuild, but may wish to relocate.  There are many considerations that go into such a decision, and it can only be made by you in the best interests of you and your family.  At the time of the Oakland firestorm, most insurance policies required that you rebuild your homes at their current sites.  However, most insurers waived this requirement, and now most policies no longer have these requirements.  If you wish to relocate, let your insurer know as soon as possible.  Even if the policy requires building on your lot, most insurers will waive that requirement as you will be in temporary quarters for a shorter time, which decreases the amount they have to pay in additional living expenses.  Most insurers are ecstatic if the insured wishes to relocate, as it decreases the amount they ultimately have to pay.  If you choose such an option, the insurer still pays you the cost of rebuilding/replacing your former home.  You will also retain title to your lot and can sell it later.

I was asked by many homeowners in the Oakland firestorm and in subsequent disasters whether they need to hire an attorney.  This is my response:  1) most homeowners insurance claims are resolved over a period of time through negotiation and with assistance from claims adjusters and contractors; and 2) most insurers are helpful and sympathetic to their insureds and will make every effort to guide insureds through the process.  However, for most homeowners, their home and its contents are their largest and most important investments.  Consequently, it is advisable to consult with an attorney who specializes in handling insurance matters to make sure that you avail yourself of all benefits you are entitled to under your policy.  Additionally, if you feel at any time you are not being fairly treated by your insurer you should either consult with an insurance coverage attorney or seek assistance from your state's Department of Insurance.

When the Oakland firestorm destroyed my home, I had two daughters: Katy, then 6, and Noelle, who was just shy of her 3rd birthday.  My now-former husband and I were lawyers, and, heck, we were insurance coverage lawyers.  We knew we could handle our claim and the situation.  We relocated our family within a week into temporary housing and shortly thereafter went into contract to purchase a new home.  We had no idea what lay ahead.

Replacing even the bare necessities was a huge project.  We were shopping both days of every weekend and almost every evening.  I wanted to keep my oldest in her school and my youngest in her preschool, so I drove a long commute from our temporary housing every morning and evening.  When I wasn’t driving, I was working on the claim or shopping to replace basic necessities.  My youngest cried every night and begged to go home.  Even though we knew how to handle an insurance claim, it was physically and emotionally exhausting.

About a month after the fire, my older daughter came home with a flyer inviting all firestorm survivors to a special day at Marine World hosted by the Oakland, Berkeley and Piedmont fire departments.  I indicated that we probably wouldn’t be able to go because we needed to go shopping for “stuff” for our soon-to-be new home.  Within an hour, Katy had organized Noelle into a joint protest.  They let their father and me have it.  They told us we had become the “no fun” family.  They were tired of not doing anything.  They missed their friends, who now lived away from them, and they missed us.

They were right!  From that day forward, we made sure that we had family day every weekend.  We went to the event at Marine World and reconnected with other relocated friends.  Katy and Noelle got to play with their friends.  We learned to be nicer to each other.  We also learned that not everything had to get done on a certain schedule, and sometimes it was better if it didn’t get done at all.  We learned that we had gotten the most important things out of the fire: ourselves.  We also learned that only those things that had memories attached were truly important, for anything else could be replaced.  None of us has ever placed the same importance on possessions.  For a long time, I resisted replacing many items, as I simply did not want as many things, and frankly still don’t.  Most importantly, we learned the importance of family and community and that we could survive a major loss in our lives and be the better for it.

Why A Homeowner Should Know About Complying With Workers' Compensation Laws

Workers' compensation laws protect people who are injured on the job. They are designed to make sure that employees who are injured or disabled on the job are provided with fixed monetary awards, removing the need for litigation.

The California Labor Code essentially tells us that anyone working for a homeowner will be an employee unless you can prove otherwise. Further, California Law tells employers — the homeowner in this case — that they must purchase workers' compensation insurance when any employee works for them.

The standard home policy, with liability insurance, includes coverage for “occasional workers' comp risks.” By “occasional,” the policy would be intended to provide insurance for your gardener that swings by once a week or your housekeeper that comes in twice a month, or other folks who perform small tasks at your home. The “occasional worker” is defined as someone who performs less than 10 hours outside of the house work or 20 hours inside of the house work.

When the homeowner is going to reach these thresholds, they should contact their insurance agent to change their Homeowner's policy to cover these new events. The costs for this change can vary quite considerably between companies, but it has been my experience that the additional charges are a fraction of the cost of worker's comp for a business operation.

How do you avoid all of these potential risks and threats, plus involvement in the insurance industry? Here is a short list of steps to simplify your life and avoid becoming an employer. First, hire licensed and insured contractors who have their own workers' compensation insurance. Next, hire other service providers who are licensed, if appropriate, and insured.

Any company or contractor that you hire should have liability and workers' compensation insurance. How to know if they are insured? This is the crucial point to understand. Before any organization, business or contractor begins work for you, ask them to provide you with a Certificate of Insurance which will list all of their insurance policies. This certificate will show that, on that date, there is a list of the insurance policies this business has in place listing their insurance companies, the amounts and types of insurance, and the dates the policy started and are to end.

The homeowner, to further protect themselves, should be listed as a Certificate Holder on this certificate. The Liability insurance listed on the certificate should list the homeowner as an Additional Insured, and the page of their insurance policy that confirms this is to be attached to the certificate.

The workers' compensation insurance should show that the business has provided a Waiver of Subrogation Endorsement on their policy. A waiver of subrogation endorsement requires one party on the contract to waive their right to sue for and recover damages from the other party.

In short, what do these worker's compensation terms mean to the homeowner?

First, the Additional Insured means the insurance for the hired business will provide you with some protection on their policy before your insurance policy may be involved in a claim.

Next, the Waiver of Subrogation means that when the businesses' employee is injured at the homeowner's home, the workers' comp insurance company paying for the employee's treatment can't come back to the homeowner to recover what they have paid injured workers.

When in doubt, call your insurance agent to guide you through this process. There are many talented and knowledgeable insurance agents who can help you. So, ask!

California homeowners have a duty to be aware of the workers' compensation rules to avoid fines and penalties. This knowledge can help them avoid legal problems in case a worker gets injured on their property.

The California Homemade Food Act And Insuring Home-Based Businesses

When I think about businesses/people working out of their homes, the first picture that comes to mind are people working on their computers — in virtual offices, remote offices, and oftentimes offices outside of the United States.

That is why it came to me as a surprise when Yahoo recently proclaimed all their employees had to “come back to work.” One news line read “work at home and you will be fired.” Clearly this is a change, especially for a high tech company. Marissa Mayer, the president and CEO of Yahoo as of 2013, defends her stance and says it will “separate out the truly productive workers from stay at home slackers who abuse the system.” Needless to say, the news is buzzing about this, so time will tell if she sticks to her guns.

While Yahoo is “going back to the workplace,” more and more people are choosing to work from their home. The current economy has redefined how people cope with the unemployment dilemma, and many businesses encourage staff to work from home to better maximize their production and as a means to better deal with the demands of work and family.

Now home-based bakeries and cooks are getting a new incentive to work from home with the passage of a new law in California. Other states may have or may adopt similar laws. The California Homemade Food Act has created a new category of food producers called “cottage food producers” which will allow people to cook their food items in their kitchens at home. Up until this law was enacted, food producers had to use commercial kitchens. These food producers could include: caterers, suppliers to organic markets or farmers markets, and bakeries that supply local restaurants with breads or desserts.

Not all foods are approved to be cooked out of a home — only foods that are considered to be “safe” fall under this law. Approved items include: baked goods, cookies, coffee, nuts, vinegar, candy, and dried pasta.

“We talked with the different health departments and various scientists, and these products are 99.9% safe,” accords to Mike Gatto, California Assemblyman. The state will require cottage food producers to take a food handling class and pass an exam that is created by the California Department of Public Health.

While the categories of the types of food that can be produced under this law are limited, at this time, it does open opportunities for some homeowners to work from their homes. From the broker/agent standpoint, we have to look more closely at the exposures and determine if the Homeowners Policy will pay for losses these home-based businesses might sustain. Here are some questions we need to ask our insured:

  1. Are they cooking in a kitchen in their dwelling?
  2. Are they cooking in a kitchen they have put in a detached structure?
  3. Have they installed commercial cooking equipment in either their home or other structure?
  4. Are they required and, if so, have they installed approved fire detection and suppression devices for their cooking equipment?
  5. Are they operating the business in their personal names (as they appear on the homeowners policy) or have they formed a business and filed for a business name?
  6. Do they have any employees?
  7. How do they deliver the goods that they cook? In their personal vehicle?
  8. Have they purchased a vehicle in the name of their business to deliver their goods?
  9. Do they have customers come to their home for any reason?
  10. How are they storing their food supplies and finished product?
  11. Do they have a website for their business?
  12. Do they sell product via the website?

These are just a couple of questions in a long list of considerations. The answer to these questions will direct the broker/agent as to how the Homeowners policy should be endorsed, not to mention the concerns relating to the personal auto used for delivery purposes or perhaps a truck purchased in the company name.

While the new law creates new opportunities for the home-based business, it also adds a responsibility to all of us in the insurance field to identify risk and suggest creative solutions. The insurance community center conducted a two hour class on insuring businesses operating out of a home in January of 2013. That archived webinar is available to all Insurance Community University members and the new Business in the Home audio presentation is now available in the Insurance Community University Library.

Sign up for classes today. Either join the University for one low price for the entire agency for all classes and products … or enroll in individual classes. Click here and be ready to learn!

Lessons Learned From Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy is said to have been the most damaging hurricane recorded in U. S. history. There appears, however, to be some dispute as to whether Hurricane Katrina holds that dubious honor. The loss estimates and concerns are changing daily. The cost of the storm, estimated by private firms including PricewaterhouseCoopers and the PFM group, points to the fact that Hurricane Sandy destroyed or damaged more units of housing, affected more businesses and caused more customers to lose power. Here is the breakdown provided on November 26, 2012: http://www.governor.ny.gov/press/11262012-damageassessment.

  Sandy in New York ALONE Katrina & Rita in Louisiana
Housing units damaged or destroyed 305,000 214,700
Power Outages (peak) 2,190,000 800,000
Businesses Impacted 265,300 18,700
  • Number of deaths is more than 110 from Hurricane Sandy http://articles.latimes.com/2012/nov/03/nation/la-na-nn-hurricane-sandy-deaths-climb-20121103
  • The official death toll from Katrina was 1,723. http://robertlindsay.wordpress.com/2009/05/30/final-katrina-death-toll-at-4081/
  • 7.5 million power outages throughout Hurricane Sandy's two day assault on land
  • Moody's Analytics estimates the loss in the vicinity of the storm to be $50 billion, of which $30 billion will be directly from damage to property and the remaining $20 billion from economic activity, not all of which is going to come from an insurance policy.
  • 60% of the losses in economic activity, or about $12 billion, will come from the New York City metropolitan area.
  • Because of the storm's intensity and the breadth and scope of the damage, President Obama declared New York and New Jersey federal disaster zones without waiting for any damage estimates.
  • As of 12/3/2012, the Federal government has already issued $180 million in federal contracts related to Sandy.
  • The President has declared several areas as disaster areas, which means that federal funds will now be available to storm victims. (This is not limited to those without flood insurance.) This federal disaster assistance usually takes the form of low-interest loans to help home and business owners rebuild, which you can learn more about on the Disaster Loan page.

The statistics are staggering as are the losses (both covered and not covered) that are emerging from the storm. We will attempt to discuss some of the unique and troublesome issues that are arising from the storm.

Article Discussion Points:

  • Definition of “Storm” and its impact on insurance
  • Flood or NOT Flood?-that is the question (or the hope)
  • Personal Auto salvage concerns
  • The Lawyers are out to get you

Definition Of “Storm” And Its Impact On Insurance

A storm reaches tropical storm status by reaching sustained winds of 39 miles per hour. The National Hurricane Center creates annual lists of names from the database of names maintained and updated by the World Meteorological Organization. If a storm causes significant damage and /or loss of life, the name is retired from the list permanently. Thus, there will be no Katrina II or Sandy II.

1. What Does The Definition Of “Storm” Have To Do With Insurance? There May NOT Be Coverage On The DIC.
Thousands of businesses were affected by Sandy. Many times those larger clients have flood and wind coverage, but written on a large property or DIC (Difference in Conditions) policy.

In those policies there may be restrictions, sub-limits or different deductibles that apply to “Named Storms.” Those policies will define what that is, and should include flood, wind, wind gusts, storm surges, tornadoes, cyclones, hail or rain into this category once the storm has been declared by the National Weather Service to be a hurricane, typhoon, tropical cycle, tropical storm or tropical depression, thus bringing into focus the entire life cycle that a storm may go through.

We have found a number of articles written by law firms that are already taking on the issue of “named storm,” claiming that even though the National Weather Service had named the storm, it was not at hurricane strength when it reached landfall. A comprehensive definition of “named storms” would be helpful to clarify coverage. The fact that the meteorologists are discussing the attributes of this storm to be more like a winter storm rather than a tropical storm may end up on the chopping block of justice in a civil court or two and test the insurance policy coverages.

2. What Is Unique About Hurricane Sandy?

  • Sandy has defied normal storm behavior by moving east to west; it acted both like a hurricane and a cyclone simultaneously.
  • The result of this last odd wind pattern was the root cause of the flood tides and the inundation of the New York subway system.
  • The storm qualified as a hurricane at the time of landfall and its wave “destruction potential” reached a 5.8 on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 0 to 6 scale.

3. One Storm or Two Storms:
Bad memories of the World Trade Center came immediately to mind when I read about this potential concern relating to Hurricane Sandy in the Daily Report. You might remember there was a significant concern that a second storm, following the initial impact of Sandy, was going to hit which would have further devastated the area.

Richard Mackowsky, a member of the Cozen O'Connor's global insurance group, said “new damage from a second storm could result in a separate occurrence, potentially requiring a separate set of deductibles.”

“If there is damage caused by a second storm but related to the first storm, issues arise as to whether there were one or two occurrences. A second storm could impact causation as to what is really driving the loss. If the only reason the second storm caused damage was because of damage from Sandy, the question then becomes whether that is a covered cause of loss,” Mackowsky said. “A second storm could trigger a separate limit of liability if it's a big enough situation,” he said.

But even one storm can create causation questions. Was the damage from wind or flooding? Not a simple question to answer, litigation stemming from previous storms has shown.

Excerpted from the Daily Report

Saved by the bell on this one — the second storm never hit, but the insurance pundits were armed and ready.

Flood … Not Flood? — That Is The Question

This appears, at first glance, to be Insurance 101 — most of this damage was either directly or indirectly caused by the condition of flooding. That is sure what it looked like to me and that is not a very popular observation. Why? Because most people did not have flood insurance and if they did, the flood insurance policy has limited amounts of insurance and significant restrictions such as no business income coverage.

1. Dilemma Of The Federal Flood Insurance Program — It's A Problem:
Even if it is covered on the flood insurance policy, there is real concern about the overall program. See this article from Reuters for more information.

2. Flood Or Not Flood
Whether talking about homeowner's insurance (including renters and condominium owners) or commercial property insurance, those forms most often include an exclusion for flood. So, here is where it gets a little tricky:

  1. Did the property owner sustain damage from storm surge?
  2. Was the loss due to rising flood waters?
  3. Was the loss due to too much rain that entered into the building because the wind removed the roof, blew out the windows or knocked a part of the building down?

“It is an ongoing saga,” says insurance lawyer Frank Darras, who has worked extensively on litigation scenarios following Katrina. “If you are a homeowner, you are going to argue that you have damage caused by wind and wind-driven rain. If you are the carrier, you are going to say the damage was caused by flood, tidal surge or a hurricane, which requires hurricane coverage.”

Excerpted from The Street

In a unique twist, New York has a specific website that contains a regularly updated scorecard on insurance company performance. Here's the link. For example, State Farm has had 48,109 claims; 6,363 closed with payment; 5,229 closed without payment.

3. Problems With The Flood Insurance Solution
FEMA says that less than 15% of homeowners nationally carry flood coverage. Federally backed lenders have been lax in enforcing the obligation to purchase flood insurance (that may change due to higher penalties being imposed upon the banks as of July, 2012).

The National Flood Insurance Program anticipates claims between $6 and $12 billion but has borrowing power at $2.9 billion. Reauthorization from Congress would be required, and Homeland Security is expected to request appropriation soon. Those current and new policyholders of National Flood Insurance Program coverage will be getting a scheduled rate increase that predates Sandy.

Even if the person or business purchased flood coverage, there are still problems and concerns.

  1. The limits of insurance available through the National Flood Insurance Program are small.
  2. Replacement cost coverage applies only to a dwelling and not to commercial structures.
  3. There may be wind damage to the building that the flood insurer will not pay but is covered in the homeowner's policy.
  4. The insured will get to pay two deductibles for those two separate policies.
  5. What kind of coverage is there if the first layer of property coverage is the NFIP coverage and the insured purchases excess layers of flood coverage above that policy?

    1. Will it drop down to pick up the replacement cost difference? No.
    2. Will it drop down to pick up business income, extra expense coverage? It should. Check the policy language.

4. The Future Of Flood Insurance
The future of the entire program is bleak enough. Add to that the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the future purchase of flood insurance. Homeowners in storm-damaged coastal areas who had flood insurance, and many more who did not, still now may be required to carry flood insurance and will face premium increases for flood from an estimated 20 to 25 percent per year beginning January. This is due in part to legislation enacted in July to shore up the debt ridden National Flood Insurance Program and is exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy.

“Because private insurers rarely provide flood insurance, the program has been run by the federal government, which kept rates artificially low under pressure from the real estate industry and other groups. Flood insurance in higher-risk areas typically costs $1,100 to $3,000 a year, for coverage capped at $250,000; the contents of a home could be insured up to $100,000 for an additional $500 or so a year,” said Steve Harty, president of National Flood Services, a large claims-processing company.

Excerpted from The New York Times)

Lenders, in addition, will be affected by Hurricane Sandy if they fail to enforce the requirement for their lenders to carry flood insurance. They will face even higher penalties then they have in the past.

5. Ordinance Or Law

  1. Many of those properties damaged by Hurricane Sandy had been built a number of years ago. So here are the questions:

    1. Does the Homeowner's Policy, Commercial Property Policy or Difference in Conditions include contingent ordinance or law coverage, demolition coverage and increased cost of construction coverage?
    2. What about the loss of use for the homeowner as well as the business interruption coverage?
  2. The National Flood Insurance Program policy is out as there is no coverage for the indirect loss.
  3. Many Difference in Conditions policies do not include ordinance or law automatically and many more do not include ordinance or law — increased period of restoration to cover the additional down time due to code or law enforcement.

6. Power Loss
Earlier we quoted the statistic of there being approximately 7.5 million power outages throughout Hurricane Sandy's two day assault on land. Many of these outages lasted days and weeks. There are several issues relating to insurance in terms of the power outages:

  1. Requirement Of An Off Premises Endorsement: In order for businesses to have coverage for either direct or indirect losses relating to power outage, the insurance would first have “off premises” or “utility coverage” on the policy. Typically, losses stemming from off premises situations are excluded on property insurance policies.
  2. Causation Of The Power Outage: If there was coverage on the property policies for the off premise loss, the situation that occurred off premises would have to be covered. For example, if the off premises loss were caused by a windstorm, that cause of loss is typically covered on a Commercial Property Policy or personal form. If the loss were caused by flooding, then that cause of loss is excluded and the off premises endorsement would not apply.
  3. Off Premises Deductible: Off premises coverage oftentimes has a “time” deductible or waiting period of 72 hours unless endorsed. This waiting period would have eliminated coverage for many of the properties that had their power back in three days or less.
  4. Direct vs. Indirect Loss: An Off Premises Endorsement would have to cover both direct damage and indirect to pick up a loss for Business Income.
  5. Other Perils such as Equipment Breakdown (EB): The cause of off premises loss may be due to a power surge that results from the storming. If the Equipment Breakdown policy has off premises coverage and business income coverage, then recovery can be sought under that policy.
  6. Some Off Premises Policies Have Distance Limitations: It must be ascertained if there is any distance indication on the policy to which the off premises is being attached. For example, some policies have a 500-foot distance radius which means the source of the off premises loss must be within 500 feet of the insured's premise.
  7. Spoilage: It may be that the loss the insured sustained while the power was out was spoilage, such as loss to refrigerated items and the business income that stems from that loss. This could be covered on either an Equipment Breakdown Form depending on whether there was a “breakdown” or on a Commercial Property Spoilage Form. Some Homeowners have limited coverage built in for refrigeration loss but not for the peril of flood.

7. Business Income
Now we are talking about one of the bigger claims that will result from Hurricane Sandy and much of it will not be covered. Here are some of the pressure points of this coverage:

  1. Cause of Loss — back to that one. Flood is excluded on the Commercial Property form so there will be no response for business income.
  2. The Flood insurance policy does not cover business income.
  3. If the cause of loss is determined to be “windstorm” and the insured has Business Income insurance, then the policy should respond from the causation point of view assuming they had direct damage.
  4. The insured will have to prove that their income loss is directly attributable to Hurricane Sandy.
  5. The policy has a waiting period for coverage typically 72 hours unless endorsed.
  6. The policy would have to be endorsed with Off Premise coverage for the Business Income stemming from loss of power to apply.
  7. There is no building ordinance for the business income — it would have to be endorsed.
  8. Civil Authority: Many of the businesses did not sustain direct damage but were closed by civil authority.

    1. There is limited coverage on the Business Insurance form
    2. There may be distance limitations
  9. Ingress/Egress: A bigger problem is the ingress/egress issue which basically means “because of the condition, itself, access to an area is affected or unavailable.” For example, if a road is flooded out so that there is no access to a grocery store, the grocery store will be able to demonstrate they are losing customers. However, if the store was not directly affected by the physical loss, there will be no trigger on their business income form. Civil Authority did not close down the area — it was closed due to natural events in this case.

Traditional Business Income Policies require that there be direct damage to the premises by a peril insured against for there to be any business income insurance response. However, there is talk, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, of what is referred to as Non-Damage Business Interruption or Non Physical Business Interruption Insurance. It is referred to as NDBI. While articles are referring to these coverages, as if they are readily available, I believe they are truly exceptional in availability and accessibility. Sometimes these forms are part of a “supply line coverage” for very large businesses that often have an international component. There is also the TDI or CDI coverage — Trade Disruption which could come into play — however, that coverage has a very limited market. Bottom line, the average business that sustained damage as a result of Hurricane Sandy had neither one of these types of coverage. Liberty International apparently has a program.

8. Automobile Losses From Hurricane Sandy
Autos are the easiest part of this equation: whether wind, flood or a combination, all are covered under the “Other Than Collision” coverage. The salvaging of these autos is where it gets interesting. Canadian officials are now bewailing the fact that thousands of autos — some estimates are as high as 250,000 — are likely making their way to Canada. Those storm-damaged vehicle are classified in Canada as “non-repairable” and are illegal to sell. But, in the aftermath of Katrina, Canadian citizens were buying these vehicles in the thousands, and they expect the same thing to happen again. What I wonder is, who is selling those vehicles? The original owner? The salvage company the insurer uses?

The Lawyers Are Out To Get You

Errors And Omissions Litigation
Well, as if all the foregoing isn't depressing enough, we cannot end this article without a little nudge to the insurance agent and broker.

If you are relying upon “conversations” with your client along the lines of “Do you want flood insurance? No. OK, then,” you are going to be sadly mistaken that your client is not going to enjoin you in litigation over your standard of care. Your client is going to claim an increased standard of care, yes including New York residents, and that you had a duty to advise and quote coverage for them or at the very least, tell them in writing of the limitations of coverage in the policies they purchased and that they relied upon you for your expertise. Many agents simply renew, year after year, their direct bill homeowner's and small business clients without any documentation of coverage offers. Even those handling larger accounts somehow rely upon the client's memory and good will not to sue you. So, again, for the millionth time already, please, please document your file, in writing, to the insured, with a rejection signature every year or, for larger accounts, an authorization to bind affirmation from the insured.

As we were all glued to the TV, watching reporters being blown around reporting the devastation, my insurance brain immediately went to “flood exclusions.” I saw the wind ravaging the houses, the uprooted trees blocking the roads, but also saw the rising waters in the streets, along the shores, in the housing areas.

The question will come down to that simple reality — was the damage due to flooding or not? The attorneys are out in force, fighting for first page on the Google search engine so you get to them first. It reminds me of an old Gun Smoke movie — ready, aim, fire. Barrels are being loaded against the insurance companies.

There is no easy way to end this article, although I am sure all of you who reached the very end are hopeful that I will. The storm was one of the biggest ever, and the insurance story will not end soon. There is so much more we could say but best end this with a heads up to watch and see how these claims unravel; and, for those of you who did not insure any of these damaged properties, I say a toast of champagne is in order.