Interior Water Damage After a Storm

Recently, homeowners, condominiums and businesses from Florida to North Carolina experienced damage caused by wind and water from the forces of Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew. Flood insurance may provide benefits for interior damage caused by flood waters entering insured homes and properties, however, many times interior water damage is caused not by the flood waters, but rather, by water blown by the wind that somehow enters a structure, commonly called “wind driven rain”.

In the past several years, insurers have been tightening the language in property insurance policies, including homeowners policies, to avoid paying for interior water damage caused during a windstorm. Some insurers inserted in their policies language which seeks to exclude or limit damage caused by water intrusion to the interior of the structure (and personal property), unless the building first experiences damage by wind (or some other covered cause of loss) to its roof or walls through which the rain enters the building. Other insurance companies have included a similar exclusion in their policies which excludes coverage for interior water damage caused by rain, unless the direct force of wind or hail damages the building, causing an opening in the roof or wall through which the rain enters the building.

The cost of repairing interior water damage can sometimes be more significant than the cost of replacing a wind damaged roof. Accordingly, it is not uncommon for homeowners to be told by their property insurance company their claim for interior water damage under their homeowners or other property insurance policy is being denied because there is no “hole” or other “visible” opening or damage through which the rain entered the home causing the damage, and thus no coverage for the loss.

What exactly constitutes “damage” or an “opening” through which rain might enter the building is not defined in most property insurance policies. Insurance companies often interpret these undefined terms in their favor. What constitutes “damage” or an “opening” is certainly subject to different interpretations. Often, the interpretation of these terms may depend on the testimony of an expert. Most property owners, when trying to recover benefits above their deductible, do not have access to skilled witnesses to assist them in pursuing a claim of coverage, after it has been denied by a property insurance company. Property insurers have access to a vast array of experts and lawyers with whom they consult on a regular basis, who understand the nuances of these property insurance policies, and understand, when called upon by a property insurer, how to couch an opinion in terms most favorable to the property insurance company, so a conclusion of no coverage may be reached.

Florida consumers, when faced with a claim denial based on some technical policy language like a “wind driven rain” exclusion, would be well served to consult with a lawyer familiar with that issue to assist them in recovering benefits due under their property insurance policy. At Tyler & Hamilton, we are available to consult at no charge on these and other issues relating to your property insurance damage claim after a storm event.