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Storm Damage Coverage Questionable When Caused by Wind-Driven Rain

In the wake of a major storm, homeowners often submit a claim for water damage to the interior of their home or other insured buildings. The damage frequently involves water-soaked carpets, peeling wallpaper, damaged drywall, and occasionally electrical, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Frustratingly for the insured, many policies include limitations that specifically exclude coverage for the interior of any structure or building when the damage is caused by rain, snow, sleet, ice, sand or dust (whether it is driven by wind or not), unless an opening first occurred during the incident from wind or hail. Many Florida policyholders have found their claims denied based on these types of provisions.

In some cases, claim investigators determined that rain damage was a result of wear and tear to the roof, and not caused by the storm, even though the resultant damage to the interior of the building was caused by the storm. But as long as the dynamic force of the wind caused an opening in the roof, and damage was caused by rainwater that entered through said opening, the claimed damages are not subject to the policy exclusion (and are therefore covered).

In order for the insurance policy to cover the interior damages, generally the following “tests” must be met.

  1. An opening to the roof or walls of the building must have been caused by the storm and the rain entered through that opening.
  2. The opening that was caused by the storm must be large enough to warrant the damages that were incurred.
  3. It may be necessary to determine what constitutes a “roof” or a “wall” in a particular incident.
  4. In general, a temporary roof covering is not considered a roof. A roof is generally defined to be a permanent part of the structure it covers. A roof and walls should be considered likely to protect against normal risks of rain and wind, but not including extraordinary weather conditions.
  5. If a building is undergoing repairs at the time of the inclement weather conditions, and the damage sustained is due to the exposure caused by the repairs, the damages will generally not be covered. For example, if a roof is under repair and the opening in the roof was caused by repair personnel, coverage will most likely not be available. While there is legal precedent for coverage if the wind rips a temporary cover (such as construction tarps), it is much more likely that a court will find that the covering is temporary and therefore ineligible under the coverage guidelines.
  6. Water that seeps in through the seals (such as between a window and the window seal) is considered to be a maintenance issue and is generally excluded under most homeowners and flood insurance policies.

Some homeowners mistakenly believe that flood insurance will cover water damage caused by wind-driven rain. When rain enters a structure through a window, door, or hole in a wall or roof, the resulting damage is considered to have been caused by the wind, not by flooding. Flood insurance is designed to cover overflow of inland or tidal waters due to unusual accumulation from any water source. A flood is considered to be temporary in nature. The National Flood Insurance Program further states that a flood consists of “partial or complete inundation of two acres or more of land that is normally dry ground.”

If you are unsure about coverages and exclusions related to your homeowner’s or business insurance, please contact an expert at Lanier Upshaw, Inc. We are happy to talk with you to ensure your risks are protected in the event of a catastrophe or other unforeseen circumstance.