Insurance Coverage for Snow Damage from Accumulation on Roofs of Commercial Buildings [Part I]

J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo
Founder of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A.

Businesses that conduct all operations in Florida do not have to contend with the brutal snowstorms that often pound much of the rest of the country.  However, companies that have plants, offices and distribution centers in those areas might be coping with the perils of snow and ice into April.  Businesses facing these perils have a reason to worry about the impact of winter weather and the spring thaw on their commercial properties.  The threat to the buildings of commercial property owners is compounded by structures with flat roofs.

An example of the risk to commercial properties posed by snow accumulation is provided by the roof collapse of a hockey rink in Canton, Mass at the end of February.  The local team was practicing when the roof caved in on the ice rink.  Fortunately, parents and coaches of the players heard the roof cracking and managed to evacuate the kids before the roof collapsed.  When the roof collapsed, the back wall of the ice rink was blown out, which could have led to multiple serious injuries or fatalities.

The accumulation of snow on a flat roof often occurs because of fixtures that obstruct snow and cause snow to drift into uneven distributions.  Fixtures like HVAC equipment, solar panels and skylights can create impediments so that snow drifts exert an unbalanced weight load on certain areas of the roof.

When snow accumulates in drifts that result in a weight load that exceeds the capacity of the roof, structural failure and roof collapse can occur.  Commercial property owners need to be aware of the roof framing system of their buildings and the way the building is designed to decrease the risk of structural damage from roof collapse.  If you have buildings that were constructed or renovated after you purchased the building, you can address concerns about the design of the building by consulting a structural engineer or the municipal building or zoning department.  This research might permit a business owner to avoid future commercial insurance claims by providing notice of the need to increase structural support prior to a heavy prolonged snow storm.

Another factor that contributes to heavy snow loads on the roof of a building is the insulation in a building.  If the roof of a facility is effectively insulated, the roof will tend to retain more snow than an inadequately insulated roof.  Further, “ice dams can be formed when heat from inside the structure fails to melt the snow of the roof of the building with abundant insulation.  An “ice dam” refers to the concentration of snow at the eaves of the roof, so snow cannot as easily slide off of the roof.

There are a number of warning signs that can indicate the prospect of an imminent roof collapse which include:

  • Creaking, cracking or popping sounds
  • Walls or masonry with cracks
  • Significant roof leaks
  • Sagging sprinkler lines or heads
  • Windows or doors that will not open
  • Accumulation of water on low-slope roofs at non-drainage locations
  • Sagging roof members

Whether you are facing property damage or liability claims based on snow or ice, the failure of your commercial insurance carrier to fulfill its promises can jeopardize the financial security of your company.  My law firm represents policyholders in commercial claims disputes in Miami and throughout Florida.  The Law Firm of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A. offers free consultations and case evaluations with an experienced Miami commercial insurance claims lawyer.  No Recovery, No Lawyer Fees.  Call 305-461-1095 or Toll Free 1-866-71-CLAIM.

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