Feb 16 Disasters

DEAR READERS: Do you have a legal question on your mind? If so, please email me. Your name will remain confidential. This Q & A Legal Column is intended as a community service to discuss general legal principles and does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Dear Debra:

            With the relentless rains and storms, I began to ponder…what disasters may or not be covered by my homeowner’s insurance?  Also, we have lost electricity at least three times because of the storms…any recourse against PG & E?

                                                Signed:  William with Wet Feet

Dear William,

Ahhh…if it was only as easy as Bob Dylan’s timeless lyrics, “The Answer, my friend, is Blowin’ in the Wind”.  In fact, the answer to your first question is embedded in your homeowner’s insurance policy, riders, and endorsements, which typically are strings and strings of clauses, exclusions, and terms, so no one reads it.  In an ideal world, everyone should read their insurance policies (yes, admittedly, I am an insurance nerd, so I do).  At the minimum, you should have an annual review with your insurance agent or broker to make sure you have all the coverage you need.  If you need an independent insurance broker, my top two favs are Sheila Harden at George Petersen Insurance Agency in Santa Rosa (707-360-4136) and Jan Loewen at Sherzer Insurance Agency (707-528-8483).

Generally, a typical homeowner’s insurance policy covers you for a variety of natural and man-made disasters, which are called “perils” in insurance lingo.  These perils may include damage from fire or lightning, windstorms or hail, explosions, vandalism and malicious mischief, theft, and accidental overflow of water from an automatic fire sprinkler system, air conditioning system, or appliances.  Now, what typically is NOT covered is damage from earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes (typically termed “Acts of God”), unless you have purchased additional coverage, typically in the form of a “rider” to your homeowner’s policy or a separate insurance policy.

Some mortgage companies require the homeowner to purchase Flood Insurance if the home is in a flood plain.  To learn more about flood insurance, check out FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program Summary at www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program.  Flood insurance is available for both homeowners and renters, and is available in the form of a separate policy from both the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP—888-379-9531) and from a few private insurers.

So, let’s say the constant rain loosens and saturates the soils, causing a tree near your garage to uplift and crash through the roof.  That damage likely would be covered under your homeowner’s policy.  But, if a nearby river or creek overflows, seeping water into your home, you are not covered unless you have purchased flood insurance.

As for the power outage question….good timing.  I bet the same question is on the minds of many Sonoma County residents, especially here in West County where we stock-up on generators, candles, flashlights, and propane stoves for the frequent power outages.  Generally, PG&E may reimburse you for losses relating to power outages, but certain criteria must be met first:  1) You must be without power for at least 48 hours; and 2) you must submit a claim form and provide receipts or documentation for the losses.  I believe that PG&E may also impose a monetary limit ($25 to $100) for certain types of losses.  Sample losses may include food spoilage, property damage, and miscellaneous losses such as hotel, restaurant and car rental receipts.  For more information on how to file a claim with PG&E, call 415-973-4548 or check out www.pge.com/claims.

As the much needed rains continue, calling us to stay indoors, now is the perfect time to pull and review your insurance policies.  Call your insurance agent or broker to discuss your coverage needs.  We cannot control the wind and rain, but we can be prepared for the unintended havoc it may reap.  “Let us permit nature to have her way.  She understands her business better than we do”, as Michel de Montaigne, the French philosopher, quipped.  Be smart.  Be prepared.  And be in awe of the power of nature.

            Debra A. Newby is a resident of Monte Rio and has practiced law for 34 years.  She is a member of the California, Texas and Sonoma County Bar Associations and currently maintains an active law office in Santa Rosa which emphasizes personal injury law (bicycle/motorcycle/motor vehicle accidents, dog bites, trip and falls, etc.) and expungements (clearing criminal records).  Debra can be reached via email(debra@newbylawoffice.com), phone (707-526-7200), or fax (526-7202).


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