Vermonters urged to check insurance before disaster strikes
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | November 04,2012
In this photo taken Monday evening, Green Mountain Power responds to a power outage on Route 30 near Townsend to restore service to the area as Hurricane Sandy moved into the state.
Vermont was spared the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, which focused its fury on New York and New Jersey, with East Coast storm-related damage estimated at upwards of $50 billion.
Unlike Irene, which pummeled the state last year with floodwaters that washed away roads, homes and businesses, causing millions in damage, Sandy was forecast to be a wind event — hitting the state with gusts of up to 80 mph. But the worst of Sandy bypassed the state, with damage limited to downed trees that caused power outages to several thousand Vermonters.
“I always check every morning after we have events like this with our Consumer Services Department, and we really haven’t had any calls from consumers at this point,” said Susan Donegan, Vermont’s deputy insurance commissioner. “It really was a very minor event here in Vermont.”
But storms like Irene and now Sandy are a reminder to homeowners, renters and businesses of the importance of property insurance.
Irene’s devastating floodwaters caught many homeowners without flood insurance. That’s because flood damage isn’t covered by homeowner’s insurance. Coverage has to be purchased separately through the National Flood Insurance Program. However, wind-related damage is covered by typical homeowner’s and renter’s policies.
Donegan advised Vermonters to check their insurance policy to see what’s covered and for how much and what deductibles apply.
She said people unsure of what their policy covers or who have other questions should contact their insurance agent or the company directly.
“The other thing we always tell people is to have a home inventory so that you know what the heck is in your house if you ever have to put in a claim for your contents,” she said.
Donegan said another sound idea is to take pictures of the contents to go along with the inventory list and to take pictures if there is any damage. She said it’s also a good idea to jot down the serial numbers of items like computers and other equipment.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners website (http://bit.ly/eNpcMr) has a downloadable home inventory checklist for homeowners and renters.
According to the NAIC, less than 50 percent of consumers keep a home inventory. Last year, weather-related damage alone totaled $43 billion.
Although flood damage isn’t covered by a typical insurance policy, Donegan said water damage caused by wind is covered. For example, she said if water enters a home because of a broken window or hole in the roof, the damaged contents would be covered.
When it’s vehicles, she said that someone with collision insurance would be covered in the event of wind-related damage from a falling object like a tree.
Paul Gladding, president of the Vermont Insurance Agents Association, said based on initial feedback from around the state, there was little storm damage this time.
Gladding said the state was fortunate in that it didn’t experience the high winds that were forecast.
“I can say for our agency here … we have had one wind claim where a tree blew down,” said Gladding, president of Holden Financial Services in Rutland and Middlebury.
Jonathan Jamieson of Jamieson Insurance in Waitsfield had a similar experience, saying there was “little or no activity related to the storm.”
Jamieson said that even before Sandy’s arrival last week his office didn’t field an unusual number of calls from policyholders. He said in an email his clients “have a good grasp on their coverage particularly considering the Irene experience.”
In the event of wind damage, Gladding said a standard homeowner’s policy will cover damage to a home. If it’s tree-related damage, he said, the policy will cover getting the tree off the home or building and up to $500 to have the tree cut up and hauled away.
If a tree is uprooted and doesn’t cause any property damage, he said, most homeowner’s policies carry an enhancement that covers tree removal up to $500.
While most homeowners have insurance, the same can’t be said of renters.
Gladding estimated that less than half of those who rent have insurance.
He said that’s unfortunate because renter insurance is inexpensive, with an average premium between $125 and $150 a year for $25,000 of coverage.
Gladding said many renters either “don’t think anything is going to happen or mistakenly believe the landlord’s policy covers them.”
A homeowner’s policy premium is based on several factors: value of the home, construction material and location.
Gladding said a home located near a fire hydrant and in a town with a full-time fire department will have a lower premium than one in a more rural area.
Although it costs more, he said insurance agents will recommend getting a policy that covers the home’s replacement value.