As the days get shorter and the nights cooler, our thoughts naturally turn to wintertime. For many people around the country, this means cold weather is approaching along with the winter holidays. A covering of fresh white snow blanketing the ground can be lovely to look at, but it can also mean disaster for property owners.
Frozen pipes, ice dams on roofs, slippery walkways, and roof collapse from snow are all wintertime perils to worry about as a homeowner or business owner. While snow damage can be severe, insurance products can help protect policyholders successfully manage these wintertime hazards and more.
Read on to learn more about common wintertime insurance claims and ways agents can help their policyholders prevent them. You can review additional coverage, claims, and E&O-related resources on the American Agents Alliance blog.
Common Winter Claims
Winter conditions can cause lots of different types of damage to businesses, homes, and condos. Homeowners and business owners can do many things to prepare in advance for advancing cold weather. Insurance agents can work with their policyholders to help them prepare for winter and avoid snow damage and cold-weather claims.
Ice dams can form on roofs in the winter when snow and ice accumulate, causing a ridge, or dam, at the edge of the roof. This ice dam prevents snow from melting off the rooftop, causing water to accumulate and potentially leak into the home. According to the Insurance Information Institute, water damage and freezing accounted for about 30% of all homeowner insurance claims in 2019.
Mold and mildew can grow due to the moisture entering the home. Ice dam insurance is not a separate product, but there may be some coverage under a homeowners or dwelling policy depending on the damage the ice dam causes. Roof collapse due to ice dams may be covered, whereas water damage to personal belongings may not.
Check the policy carefully to know which form the coverage is written on and advise the homeowner accordingly. If a policyholder assumes they have ice dam insurance, explain how property damage coverage applies and list any exclusions on the policy. For commercial general liability policies, the property damage portion may cover the loss.
The weight of snow and ice can cause roofs and other structures to collapse in the wintertime. A roof damaged or destroyed due to roof collapse may be covered by the homeowners or the property damage portion of the commercial general liability policy. Policyholders can take some preventative steps, like removing snow from rooftops and clearing gutters, to reduce the severity of roof collapse losses.
There can be an increased risk of fires in the winter months. Many people use woodstoves or wood-burning fireplaces to heat their homes, which can spark and cause fires. The lights on Christmas trees, outside decorations, and wreaths can overheat or malfunction. Candles used to brighten long winter nights or when the power is out after storms can easily tip or catch fire to furniture or curtains. Homes with small children or pets have a higher risk of accidents with decorations and should employ more significant risk management measures.
Falling Tree Limbs
The trees surrounding a home or commercial structure can become perils in the wintertime. Branches may fall when they become coated with heavy ice during storms. Wind can knock trees and branches over into structures or onto roofs, causing property damage.
Talk with homeowners about inspecting their property for damaged, diseased, or dead trees in the autumn months – when out raking leaves, they can inspect the trees surrounding their home for any problem limbs. Taking care of diseased trees as soon as they are noticed can help prevent claims due to falling limbs. Explain to policyholders they may hold liability if they do not remove dead or diseased trees and those trees cause property damage to others.
Business owners and homeowners alike need to worry about proper winter maintenance of walkways, sidewalks, driveways, and other public paths. Removing the snow and ice and spreading sand or something else to give traction to walkers can help reduce the likelihood of a slip and fall accident. Property owners and tenants should remedy slippery conditions as soon as possible after storms to help lower the risk of injury and their liability.
You can talk with your policyholders about purchasing an umbrella policy to give additional liability coverage. This can be essential coverage depending on the limits of the underlying policy. A personal or commercial umbrella policy could be the right solution for your policyholder to help them avoid the risk of out-of-pocket costs and personal liability.
What to Do Next
Talking with policyholders and educating them about common winter insurance claims and how to prevent them is a best practice—and now is the time for this conversation before winter weather strikes. Help to lower E&O claims by providing timely advice and information to your policyholders—talking about ways to reduce wintertime claims could be a great place to start! This can help reduce these claims and improve your agency’s loss ratio.
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