How Does Debris Removal Insurance Coverage Work?

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

After Hurricane Irma swept through Florida it left behind a considerable amount of damage in its wake. Some of the most common occurrences include: downed power lines, flooding, damaged roofs, and a substantial amount of fallen trees and tree limbs. Your property may have been riddled with debris, most of which was probably dragged onto your property by heavy storm winds or flooding. Some of this debris may be so large that you cannot remove it yourself and you will have to hire a contractor to clean up the mess. This can become quite expensive. So, the question many policyholders may be asking themselves is whether their insurance policy will cover the cost of debris removal.

What should I do about debris on my property once the storm has passed?

After a storm you’re going to need to survey the damage, and document as much as possible. Take pictures, videos, keep logs, etc. You’re also going to want to clean up your property as quickly as possible so that you may return to normalcy. Although this impulse is understandable, don’t do anything without first notifying your insurance company of the damages you have sustained. A failure to do so may provide your insurer with a reason to disavow your coverage. In an effort to speed up the recovery process, many local governments have implemented plans to facilitate the removal of debris. Many counties are allowing their residents to move the debris from their property onto public rights of way for pick up and removal. Although many local governments may be offering free debris pickup, it is still incumbent on the property owner to remove the debris from her property.

Assuming you are fortunate enough to have debris removal coverage, you’re still going to have to decide whether it is even worth it to get your insurer involved. If it is something small that you can easily manage, the cost of removal may fall under your deductible. On the other hand, if the debris is substantial or very large, such as a fallen tree or a heavy piece of machinery, you may want to consider getting your insurer involved to cover some of your expenses.

Will my homeowners insurance cover debris removal?

Like the answer to many insurance claim questions, whether your insurance will cover your claim and the extent of your coverage will depend on your particular policy. You need to understand your specific policy. If you are having trouble understanding it, seek professional advice.

Many policies will only cover debris removal if the debris caused damage to a structure. For example, if a tree fell and struck your home, then your policy may require your insurer to repair the damaged property as well as remove the debris that damaged the property. However, if debris fell on your property but didn’t impact or damage any structure, your insurance may not cover the cost of removal for that particular item of debris because there was no damage to the home.

Similarly, if your neighbor’s tree fell and damaged a structure on your property (such as a shed or a fence) then your insurance company may be required to cover the costs of debris removal up to the limit on your policy, because of the physical damage to your property. Additionally, most policies contain some language that limit the amount of cleanup costs to no more than 25 percent of the total claim. So, if your total claim is for $10,000, only $2,500 can be used toward actual removal expenses.

What if debris damaged my car?

If debris damages your car or other vehicle you will need to look to your auto insurance policy to determine your coverage. If you have comprehensive automobile insurance, your insurer should cover the cost of the damage to your vehicle.  However, the cost of the debris removal will likely need to be borne by the insured.

Will flood insurance cover debris removal?

If your home flooded and those flood waters brought various items onto your property, flood insurance will cover the damage to your property caused by the actual floodwaters, but it will not cover the cost to remove the debris brought by the floodwaters. So if your home floods and you find yourself with sand, dirt, rubble, or garbage left behind, it will be up to you to clean it or foot the bill to have another do so.

If debris falls and damages a structure covered by my policy is there any way my insurer can deny coverage.

Insurance companies frequently deny claims that should be covered.  If, for example, you failed to take care of a tree on your property or a tree on your property was in apparent danger of falling before the storm and you took no action to mitigate the potential damage caused by that fallen tree, your insurer may choose to argue this to deny coverage because of your act or omission. Many people fail to take reasonable steps before large storms, but unfortunately, insurance companies often use this as an excuse to deny coverage. Reasonable steps may include something as simple as giving your tree a hurricane trim, or safely locking up a shed that is full of machinery. Try to be prudent, and do not give your insurer a reason to deny your claim.

Do I have any legal options if my insurer does not cover my debris removal expenses?

A legal course of action will depend on your individual circumstances, and your specific policy. If you have any questions regarding your policy or your rights under your policy, you should seek professional advice.

You can reach Miami Hurricane Insurance Claims Lawyer J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo by dialing his direct number at (786) 272-5841, calling the main office at (305) 461-1095, or Toll Free at 1 (866) 71-CLAIM or email Attorney J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo directly at [email protected].

Sources

https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2017/09/16/4337/hurricane-debris-pick-priority-florida-recovery