AAA: How to handle property damage after the storm

aaaAfter more than a foot of snow in many areas of Virginia, some property owners may be picking up the pieces while trying to figure out how to handle property damage to homes and/or cars.

AAA Mid-Atlantic Insurance Experts offer tips on how to protect your property and handle damage felt by the Commonwealth’s first major winter storm.

“Snow, ice, and freezing rain generally result in property damage to vehicles and homes.  In fact, catastrophic winter storms are the third leading cause of insured property losses in any given year, following hurricanes and tornadoes,” advised Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

AAA Insurance offers the following tips when dealing with auto insurance and homeowner’s insurance coverage and claims questions in the aftermath of brutal winter storms:

AAA Tips on Auto Insurance Coverage

  • If your car is damaged by a fallen tree or limbs, then you would need to file a claim using your vehicle policy’s comprehensive coverage.
  • If your tree falls on your house, your insurance will cover removal of the tree and home repairs due to damage.
  • If your tree falls on your neighbor’s house, your neighbor’s homeowners’ policy would provide insurance coverage.  The same holds true if your neighbor’s tree falls on your home; you would file a claim with your own insurance company.
  • If a tree falls in your yard, but doesn’t hit anything, you would pay for its removal in most cases.
  • Additionally, if a tree on your property is weak, damaged, or decayed, but you do nothing about it, and it crashes down, you could be held liable for damages.
  • Property damage liability coverage pays for damage you (or someone driving the car with your permission) may cause to someone else’s property caused by ice, snow and slippery roads. Usually, this means damage to other cars, but it also includes damage to lamp posts, telephone poles, fences, buildings or other structures your car may hit.
  • Collision coverage pays for damage to your car resulting from a collision with another car, object or as a result of flipping over. It also covers damage caused by potholes.
  • Physical damage to a car caused by heavy wind, flooding, and fallen ice or tree limbs is covered under the optional comprehensive portion of an auto policy.

AAA Tips on Auto Insurance Claims:

  • Car owners should contact their insurance company to determine the extent of coverage before seeking repairs.
  • Take photographs of any visible damage.
  • Any vehicle sustaining flood/water damage should be fully inspected before being allowed back on the road. Mechanical components, computer systems, engine, transmission, axles, brake system and fuel system impacted by water contamination may render the vehicle unfit to drive and in many cases vehicles sustaining significant water damage will be determined to be a total loss.

AAA Tips on Home Insurance Coverage

  • Wind-related damage to a house, its roof, its contents and other insured structures on the property is covered under standard homeowner’s insurance policies. Wind-driven snow, sleet or rain that causes an opening in the roof or wall and enters through this opening is also covered.
  • Tree limbs that fall on a house or other insured structure on the property would be covered for both the damage the tree inflicts on the house and the cost of removing the tree, generally up to about $500. Ice or other objects that fall on the home are also covered.
  • Damage to the house and its contents caused by weight of snow or ice that creates a collapse is covered under standard homeowners’ insurance policies.
  • Freezing conditions such as burst pipes or ice dams—a condition where water is unable to drain properly through the gutters and seeps into a house causing damage to ceilings and walls—is covered. However, there is generally a requirement that the homeowners has taken reasonable steps to prevent these losses by keeping the house warm and properly maintaining pipes, drains and gutters.
  • Melting snow that seeps into a home from the ground up is considered flooding and would be covered by flood insurance, which is provided by the National Flood Insurance Program and a few private insurers. Flood insurance is available to both homeowners and renters. Flood damage is not covered by standard homeowners or renters insurance policies.
  • Homeowners’ policies also include additional living expenses—in the event a home is severely damaged by an insured disaster, this would pay for reasonable expenses incurred by living elsewhere while the home is being fixed or rebuilt.

AAA Tips on Homeowners Insurance Claims:

  • The first step to recovery is inspecting your home for damage and then notifying your insurance company as soon as possible.
  • Prepare an inventory and take photographs of damaged property.
  • Store undamaged property in a protected place if possible.
  • If carpet is soaked, remove the carpet and the carpet pad.  Keep a two-foot square piece for the claims adjuster.
  • Look for hazards such as broken or leaking gas lines, flooded electrical circuits, submerged furnaces or electrical appliances and damaged sewage systems.
  • Proceed with extreme caution as you inspect your basement. There may be hazards from electrical lines and heating units.  If your basement has flooded, do not pump it out all at once.  Remove about one-third of the water per day.  The wet ground surrounding your basement may cause the floors to buckle and the walls to collapse.
  • Remove contaminated materials from the home. Be aware of exposure to mold.
  • Carpeting, mattresses and upholstered furniture should be disposed of or cleaned and disinfected by a professional cleaner.
  • Cover broken windows and other holes to prevent further damage.
  • Test drywall for moisture softness. If soft, cut holes at base to help dry out.
  • If possible run AC, dehumidifier and fans constantly.
  • If power is out, disconnect all computers and appliances from electrical sources.
  • Open cabinet doors and elevate furniture allowing air to circulate.
  • Save wet books or photo albums by putting them on edge in a frost free freezer.
  • Be present when the adjuster inspects your damage.

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