Logic & Language and Forms & Facts Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

By | February 8, 2021

People in the South love the snow. It’s like grandchildren … fun when it visits but not around enough to become a lot of work.

In the North, snow and its evil cousin ice can become problematic, especially from an insurance coverage standpoint.

In this article, let’s take a look at two snow and ice exposures, both coming from questions I received from a Michigan agent (snow) and a South Dakota agent (ice). We’ll examine the snow coverage issue from the standpoint of the 2011 ISO HO 00 03 form and the ice issue from the standpoint of that form and the current National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) dwelling flood policy. Needless to say, the answers to the questions below may be different if an insurer’s proprietary policy form or endorsement is used.

If a home’s roof collapses from the weight of ice, snow or sleet, is it covered?

If it snows heavily, especially for several days in a row, several feet of snow may accumulate on a roof. Many, if not most, homeowners aren’t going to risk injury by trying to remove the snow themselves and contractors who can do this may be booked up. So, if the roof is damaged or collapses, is there coverage?

The ISO form, with open or special perils on the dwelling under Coverage A, does not specifically exclude any damage to the dwelling caused by ice, snow or sleet, with the single exception being damage caused by freezing, thawing, pressure or weight of water or ice to a footing, foundation, bulkhead, wall or other feature that provides structural support to the building.

In fact, even in the case of personal property under Coverage C, there is a broad named peril that covers “…weight of ice, snow or sleet which causes damage to property contained in a building.”

And, in the case of the Additional Coverage of Collapse, collapse due to the weight of ice, snow and sleet is specifically covered because that is a Coverage C peril.

However, while the policy does not specifically exclude most building damage caused by the weight of ice, snow or sleet, there is an exclusion for “neglect,” which means “neglect of an ‘insured’ to use all reasonable means to save and preserve property at and after the time of a loss.”

There are two issues here.

First, the exclusion applies only if an insured does not use all “reasonable” means to save and preserve the property. Is it reasonable to expect an insured to climb on the roof and shovel snow? I think we would all agree that, no, it’s not reasonable.

The second issue is that the neglect exclusion effectively applies only at the time the loss occurs and thereafter. In other words, this is not a pre-loss or pre-collapse preventative requirement.

The policy, under the duties after loss condition, requires that the insured “protect the property from further damage. If repairs to the property are required, you must … make reasonable and necessary repairs to protect the property ….” Note that this is also a post-loss requirement and is triggered only if repairs are reasonable under the circumstances.

In support of this condition, the policy has another additional coverage, this one for “reasonable repairs,” that says that the insurer “…will pay the reasonable cost incurred by you for the necessary measures taken solely to protect covered property that is damaged by a Peril Insured Against from further damage.”

Have you noticed that ISO is fond of the word “reasonable?” Reasonableness is the key here. An insured should not be neglectful, but is also not expected to take unreasonable risks. That’s why the homeowner has insurance.

‘Reasonableness is the key here. An insured should not be neglectful, but is also not expected to take unreasonable risks.’

Is there coverage for a lakeside home damaged by an ice flow from the lake?

For a visual of what I’m talking about, search YouTube for “Glaciers Visit Izatys Resort – Mille Lacs Lake, MN” or go to this link I created to the video: https://tinyurl.com/LakeIceFlow.

If you looked at that video or others like it, what apparently happened was that wind-driven water forced ice flows onto the land, causing damage to nearby buildings. In other cases, damage may result from expanding ice where the expansion is not wind related.

In addition to the pressure of water or ice exclusion for property such as footings, foundations, bulkheads, walls and other structural supports that was mentioned earlier in this article, we also have a general exclusion in the ISO form for any damage caused by waterborne material moved by water.

The water exclusion applies to the “overflow of any body of water … whether or not driven by wind.” The initial question might be whether the overflow applies to ice. But that question is moot because the exclusion also includes damage caused by “Waterborne material carried or otherwise moved by any of the water referred to….” In the exclusion, ice would certainly qualify as waterborne material.

So, is there coverage under the ISO form? There is an argument that there is coverage for property other than structural supports. In the video above, the only damage that was apparent was to a sliding glass door, though it’s possible there could be other unseen damage. However, as I read the water exclusion, it is broad enough to exclude this type of loss.

What about the NFIP Dwelling policy? This form says, “We do not insure for direct physical loss caused directly or indirectly by any of the following … the pressure or weight of ice….” I was told by an NFIP rep that the policy does not intend to cover damage caused by ice even if resulting from the overflow of a body of water because of the specific exclusionary language for damage caused by ice.

What do you think about lake ice flow damage? Do you have experience with claims of this type as to how carriers usually approach them? If so, as always, you are welcome to share your opinions and experience in the comments section on InsuranceJournal.com.

About Bill Wilson

Wilson, CPCU, ARM, AIM is the founder and CEO of InsuranceCommentary.com and the author of the book "When Words Collide: Resolving Insurance Coverage and Claims Disputes." His column, "Is It Covered?", is published in Insurance Journal Magazine. More from Bill Wilson

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