RICHMOND — Homes and vehicles are often no match for the hazards created by winter weather. Freezing temperatures, snowstorms, ice and wind can cause headaches for homeowners, renters and drivers by severely damaging property and increasing the chance of insurance claims. The arrival of cold weather also increases the potential for residential fires as consumers turn on their electric space heaters and light up their wood stoves and fireplaces.
The State Corporation Commission’s (SCC) Bureau of Insurance encourages Virginians to review their property insurance coverage before severe winter weather arrives. Pay particular attention to any deductibles, limitations or exclusions to coverage. “Protect yourself financially by ensuring you have the coverage you need in the event of winter weather and mishaps,” said Virginia Insurance Commissioner Scott A. White. “Failure to do so may result in considerable out-of-pocket costs for you to repair damage to your property.”
Most standard homeowners insurance policies cover damage to homes caused by fire, wind, wind-driven rain, trees or other falling objects or collapse of a structure due to the weight of ice or snow. Frozen pipes caused by extreme cold weather may not be covered if the damage is due to negligence. Flood damage, removal of fallen trees (if the trees do not land on and damage your home), food spoilage due to a power outage and water damage from backed-up drains or sewers are not covered under most standard homeowners policies. Some insurers offer additional protection or endorsements that consumers may purchase for certain coverages not provided under a standard homeowners policy, so check with your insurance agent or company to determine your needs.
Commissioner White stresses the importance of renters insurance for people who do not own their own homes. “Most consumers who purchase homes are required by their mortgage company to have homeowners insurance, but many individuals who rent their homes have no coverage at all. Renters often do not realize the value of their personal property, which can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace,” he said. Insurance coverage for renters is readily available at a reasonable cost, he said. A typical renters insurance policy provides coverage for household contents, personal possessions, additional living expenses and liability coverage.
The Bureau of Insurance encourages consumers to know what to do if you must file an insurance claim. If damage occurs to your home, call your insurance company or agent with your policy number and other relevant information as soon as possible. Take photographs or videos of the damage. Make any necessary repairs to prevent further damage to your property such as covering broken windows and leaking roofs. Do not have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected your property and you have agreed on the cost of repairs.
If your home is damaged to the extent that you cannot live in it, ask your insurance company if you have coverage for additional living expenses incurred for accommodations while repairs are being made. Save all receipts to document those costs.
If you are involved in an automobile accident, call the police immediately. Obtain the names, addresses, telephone numbers and license numbers of everyone involved in the accident and all witnesses. Record the time, date, location, road conditions, make and year of the vehicles involved, insurance information, apparent damage and injuries and your version of what happened.
Following such an automobile accident, call your insurance agent or insurance company with your policy number and other relevant information as soon as possible. Take notes each time you talk to your insurance company, agent, lawyers, police or others involved in the situation. Include dates, times, names and other pertinent information.
If your car is not drivable, ask your insurance company if you have coverage for a rental vehicle. Save all receipts and bills, including those for car rental, towing or storage of your damaged car.
The Bureau of Insurance stands ready to assist consumers with their insurance-related questions and concerns. For homeowners, renters and auto insurance questions, contact the Bureau’s Property and Casualty Division in Richmond at (804) 371-9185 or toll-free at 1-877-310-6560 or visit the Bureau’s website at www.scc.virginia.gov/boi.