Spring thaw

By Christine Barlow

FC&S Online


As the sun gets closer to the Northern Hemisphere, snow and ice start to melt away and spring flowers begin to bloom. While the end of winter is welcome to most people, it can bring about some issues for the homeowner. Some freezing does still occur, and the melting of all that snow and ice can cause problems. Spring rains can lead to flooding, and some folks rightly call this mud season.

Collapse

Collapse is the first section of the Homeowners policy to deal with water and snow. The policy states that direct physical loss to property due to collapse of a building or any part of a building is covered if the collapse was caused by a coverage C peril, or the weight of rain which collects on a roof. The coverage C perils include weight of ice, snow or sleet which cause damage to property contained in a building. For example, if the screened in patio collapses under the weight of snow the damage is covered. Likewise if the shed collapses because of the weight of ice and snow, there is coverage.

Collapse coverage is also available from the weight of water on the roof. Remember however that the current ISO form defines collapse is the abrupt falling down or caving in of a building or part of a building, so that it cannot be used for its intended purposes. If the roof sags under the weight of water, that is not a collapse. The roof has to actually cave in for it to be covered under collapse. This is more likely to occur with a flat roof as water runs off of a sloped roof.

It is important to note that loss to an awning, fence, patio, deck, pavement, pool, pipe, flue, drain, cesspool, septic tank, foundation, retaining wall, bulkhead, pier, wharf or dock are also covered from the weight of ice or snow. While the policy excludes coverage for these items for the other causes of collapse, such as insect or vermin damage, or weight of contents or people, there is coverage if the item collapses due to the weight of ice or snow since that is a coverage C peril. Therefore, if drifting snow causes part of the fence to fall down or pulls down an awning, there is coverage. But see under the freezing section where the pressure of water or ice is not covered.

In the Coverage C section, personal property is covered from damage caused by the weight of ice, snow or sleet which damages property inside a building. It is interesting to note that there is no requirement that the weight of ice, snow or sleet cause an opening in a roof or wall the way the falling object peril does. Therefore, if the weight of snow causes the roof to sag, which damages a bookcase, there is coverage for the bookcase even though the snow hasn't caused a hole in the roof.

Freezing

Although the weather is starting to warm up, freezing is still an issue. Freezing of pipes is excluded unless the insured has taken reasonable care to maintain heat in the building or has turned off the water or drained the pipes. Reasonable care means to leave the heat on at 55 degrees or above; the use of space heaters or the oven is not reasonable care to maintain heat in a building, even though the insured is moving out. An exception exists for turning off the water and that is for homes that have sprinkler systems; in such instances, the water and heat must be left on so that the sprinkler system can function in event of a fire.

Fences, pavement, patios, pools, footings, foundations, bulkheads, retaining walls, or any other structure that supports part of a building or structure is not covered from the freezing, thawing, pressure or weight of water or ice, whether or not driven by wind. The thawing and freezing of moist soil can cause what is known as frost heave; the upthrust of ground or pavement caused by freezing of moist soil. This kind of heaving is apt to occur over time and is not a fortuitous loss.

Thawing

Thawing is a big problem, especially in northern states that get large amounts of snow. Predictions are already being made that areas of North Dakota will be flooded as snow melts and raises the rivers. There is a 90 percent chance that Apple Creek, which topped 17 feet last year, will again reach a major flood stage of 17 feet this year. This highlights the importance of flood coverage for people that don't necessarily live on the ocean coast. The homeowners' policy doesn't cover flood yet there are many areas that receive large amounts of snow that will melt when the weather warms. If this melting is combined with rains, a true disaster may exist, even though a body of water is no where nearby. Melting snow and rain are a prime cause of surface water.

Preparation

An issue that comes up when floods are expected is whether or not there's coverage for the insured taking preventative measures such as sandbagging or building berms. Insurance is designed to cover losses, not the avoidance of loss. However, if vehicles are used to build berms or other preventative measures, and the vehicles dig up the yard, there is coverage for the damage to the yard. That is actual damage, even though it was intended to protect the property. Vehicles are not an excluded cause of loss.

While the building of the berm is an intentional act, what's excluded is intentional loss, and the intent was to protect the property, not to damage the lawn. The damage to the lawn is accidental damage, and therefore covered by the policy.

Conclusion

As can be seen, there are important subtleties in the homeowners form where freezing and melting are concerned. The form needs to be read carefully to pick up on the exceptions to exclusions that grant coverage, and wording needs to be watched carefully as how a sentence is phrased can radically change coverage.

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