The double whammy of wind and flood damage from hurricanes can be a policyholder’s nightmare
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That’s a question that has been debated for thousands of years. The prevailing wisdom is that a non-chicken junglefowl laid an egg that contained the basic genetic makeup of a bird that eventually evolved into a chicken. Hence, the egg came first.
While that might be interesting, you may be wondering what it has to do with hurricanes. Well, the same sort of question comes up when I work with clients who get hit with both wind and flood damage during named storms. Take Hurricane Florence for example.
Hurricane Florence came ashore near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, on September 14, 2018, as a Category 1 hurricane. The slow-moving tropical cyclone dumped between 20 and 30 inches of rain in the Carolinas and set off major flooding a day or so after the storm passed as water in rivers and creeks flowed downstream to low-lying areas. Widespread coastal flooding occurred due to a record-breaking storm surge of 9 to 13 feet.
When it came time to file property damage claims, policyholders often discovered that their insurance carriers refused to pay up, saying the property damage resulted from flooding, not wind. Likewise, the Federal Emergency Management Agency often refused to pay up because it claimed the property damage was due to wind, not flooding.
It is rare to be able to purchase a single insurance policy that covers both wind and flood damage. Your property insurance policy should include coverage for wind damage from hurricanes. Policies from the National Flood Insurance Program or through private insurers will cover flood damage. Unfortunately, policyholders frequently get caught in the crossfire when neither entity will honor the claim if the exact cause of the damage is unclear.
Determining which insurance provider should pay which portion of the total damage gets complicated. If your roof blows off in a hurricane, the cause of the resulting water damage would be obvious. But what if windows break due to flying debris and rainwater floods the house, and then the house floods from a nearby river? Which insurance provider should pay the overlapping water damage and how do you prove it with no eye witnesses? Suffice it to say that’s the time to call the experts. Hurricane Florence touched off an enormous number of disputes because the cause of the property damage was not readily discernible in many cases –– the recent hurricane laws will be no exception.
In an ideal world, insurance carriers would cover flood and wind damage from hurricanes in a single policy. Alas, that’s not our reality. The bottom line is you should get professional help from a public insurance adjuster or an attorney that specializes in similar cases if there’s even a remote question regarding whether wind or flooding caused the property damage.