Value of Benefits Revealed from Aftermath of Natural Losses

house in flood

Nature’s Power on Display

The uncontrollable power of nature was on full display as the fire driven by the wind roared across the island of Maui. Other places across the world experienced the same horror as those Maui victims when they faced wind and fire at their apex of power.

This author, having been an on-the-line forest service firefighter, a lookout attendant, and a volunteer fireman, can sympathize personally with the pain and sorrow experienced by those who lost most if not all their worldly possessions. Once having seen that horror, one cannot quickly erase the image of hopelessness found in the eyes of those who suffered so much.

I personally have seen the charred bodies of animals who could not outrun the speed of fire being driven by hurricane strength wind which in just a moment of time turned their paradiscal environment into a demonical scene. Silence and a deep sense of loss washed over me as I walked through the ashes left from the wrath of a forest fire.

I have seen a mother sitting on the foundation of the only thing left of her home after a fire destroyed everything she owned except a hand drawn picture by her daughter of the family Cocker Spaniel dog. Fortunately, no one was home at the time of the fire which razed the house so quickly the fire department which was only three miles away could not save anything from the home.

Another man barely escaped the flames of the fire at his home with only the bubbling of his skin and the scorching of his hair as he tried to save the precious physical memories of his recently deceased wife. He at least survived with the memories of her even though he would never again be able to take solace from those things they both treasured.


Somehow hope is not lost in the face of such devastation, for “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalms 30:5), recognizing the night of weeping may endure longer for some than others.

Through the ashes of the devastating forest fire, fireweed plants begin to sprout and the honey bee returns to partake of the nectar, the intensity of the flames causes the pyrophilic jackpine, lodgepole, and black pine cones to break out of their slumber, and over time the majestic ponderosa reaches to the sky; elk, bear, deer, cougars, squirrels and porcupine return to enjoy newly sunlit meadows which could not exist with the canopy of the forest covering them before the destroying flames, and the gentle rain settles the ashes and replenishes the gurgling streams and cool rivers. So does mankind.

Humankind has a way of recovering from such devastation. The fear and anxiety so prevalent at the moment of loss is replaced with a determination to move forward. Strength and latent resolve step to the front, and with tools for rebuilding new growth emerges from the ashes. Neighbors who hardly knew each other before the catastrophe now share a common communal commitment to make life good again. Resources from those who want to help appear almost magically without any compulsion or strings attached for reimbursement.

Tool That Stands Alone

The miracle of a homeowner insurance policy created by such a communal commitment many years ago shakes off the dust accumulated while waiting for such a moment in time. It is time for fulfillment of the promises found within those papers.

One such promise is revealed in that when each policyholder paid his or her premium, assets would be set aside for whoever needed the full financial commitment singularly given. One, praying it will not be them, does not know if they will be the recipient but is satisfied in knowing they are lifting a burden from their neighbor.

The receiver of those premiums makes a solemn promise that the funds received will be managed in such a way sufficient resources will be available when needed. Reserves are established and wise investments are made to accomplish that promise. Policies are issued spelling out exactly what financial benefits will be provided and under what circumstances they will be activated.

One of those financial benefits-the additional living expense provision of the policy activates immediately when a house is no longer habitable due to a loss caused by an insurable peril. This is a benefit to care for the additional expenses brought on by the loss. It is very easy to administer and is so comforting in the hour of need. If an adjuster is not able to immediately assess the loss, the insured can check into a motel or hotel, purchase sufficient clothing to be clothed properly, and either purchase food commodities they can prepare or go to a local eating establishment, then keep the receipts and the adjuster will reimburse them. If the adjuster can immediately approve the claim, a money voucher or credit card with proper limits will be issued and the insured can go about getting life back together again.

The policy contract does not require the insurance company to arrange for work to be done, but it does require them to monitor the work being done and financially pay for that work. It is a partnership between the insured and insurer to work together to ensure fair and equitable results are forthcoming. That is why it is so important for the insured and insurer to have a clear understanding prior to the loss as to the role each of them will play.

The words of the insurance contract states how the insured is to respond to their requirements and the words of the contract spells out the perils under which the insurance company will activate, i.e. fire, windstorm, theft, smoke damage, water damage, etc.

At the same time the policy wording spells out the insured and insured responsibilities, the declaration page states the financial limits the policy will pay up to before the insurance company’s commitment has been honored. The insured upon paying the premium and signing the application agrees to the terms set out in the application and can expect those terms to be valid so long as he or she continues to pay the required premium and meets the residency requirement. These understandings are codified upon the issuance of a homeowner policy.

Understanding Policy Limitations

It is important for the insured to know those amounts and the coinsurance and deductibles which will apply, also to be familiar with endorsements found within the language of the policy. Examples:

Many homeowners policies do not include any reimbursement for loss cause by mold while others have a limited amount which is spelled out on the policy declaration sheet.

Many companies are also placing limitations on how they will deal with losses from aging roofs. It used to be customary for old roofs to be replaced at a replacement cost while now many are being excluded completely for loss caused by windstorm or water after a certain number of years or replaced upon a loss on an actual cash value method of settlement.

It is obvious the insurance policy is not a panacea for all contingencies.

Caveat Emptor

Some of the saddest statements heard after a claim is made and denied is, “I thought it was covered,” or “I trusted my agent to make sure I was covered properly,” or “I didn’t understand the policy so I shouldn’t be penalized.” Those comments could be avoided by the insured taking the time, as laborious and boring as it may seem, to review the policy regularly so as to become familiar with it. It is the principle of caveat emptor at play here. It is the responsibility of the buyer to understand what he or she is purchasing and to be assured the finished product will accomplish what the buyer wants it to accomplish.

Most reputable insurance agents want their clients to understand the scope of the contract and are willing to take whatever time is required for that understanding to be achieved.They would rather take the questions of coverage prior to the loss and not after when it is too late to rectify any confusion. As an agent of over 40 years one of my biggest anxieties was dealing with clients who would not take the time to understand the insurance contract. They were more concerned with what it was going to cost than with what they were actually purchasing. The comment made by the purchasing party of “I trust you” was always intended to be a compliment, but it never satisfied the desire of the agent for the insured to understand what the policy would and would not accomplish.

Scope of Coverage

Having read all the thoughts above you should have a pretty good understanding that as miraculous as the insurance contract is, it is not a panacea. There are a myriad of ways for physical damage to be caused to a residence that are not insurable perils. What I mean by that is some losses are simply caused by deterioration, wear and tear, acts of hostilities, poor workmanship, etc. They become maintenance issues.

The best way to describe an insurable peril would be to state the loss must be sudden, accidental, and a one time event, i.e., frozen pipes, a tree falling on the house, a vehicle running into the house, a grease fire, an electric bike catching on fire, hurricanes, snow buildup on the roof, etc. This list does not include any losses covered by the personal injury section of homeowner policy (another time and article).

Hats Off to the Insurance Industry

In this age of entitlement and government intervention, the homeowner insurance industry still stands as a bastion of personal responsibility. It is still based on individuals banding together for the good of the whole. Each individual bears his or her portion of the collective exposure without any compulsion or coercion from an outside source. Each can come and go as they choose. Both the individual insured and the collective whole under the banner of an insurance company knows the requirement and commitment they bring to the relationship. There is no fine print nor hidden agenda to be dealt with which would destroy this symbiotic relationship. In fact, most homeowner insurance policies state there are no other understandings or agreements which govern the insured and insurer relationship.

So far the industry has been able to withstand the efforts by some to manipulate the purity of the contract by suggesting the policy should be interpreted to cover losses which were never intended to be included. Judges who interpret the contract by what they think it should mean and not by the rule of law which governs the language of the policy are a major threat to the integrity so vital to the well being of the policy. Long may this awesome tool established by caring people to assist individuals at a time most critical to them be capable of accomplishing its task.