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Setting the record straight on insurance and earthquakes

Earthquakes can wreak havoc on homes, businesses and virtually all property structures.

Some of the most significant natural catastrophes to affect people around the world have come in the form of earthquakes.

Over the past decade, millions of people from all around the world have reached into their pockets and bank accounts so that they could send money to nations like Haiti, the Philippines, China, Indonesia and Pakistan so that victims can recover as quickly as possible.

One nation that has been relatively unscathed by earthquakes in recent years is the United States. However, as the Insurance Information Institute indicates, these earth-shaking events can happen at anytime and at any place. As such homeowners and renters need to be sure that they're prepared in the event a temblor occurs.

A mistake that many homeowner often make is assuming that their insurance coverage includes protection from earthquakes. As a general rule, however, basic homeowners policies do not provide compensation for quakes, no matter how minor or powerful they may be. In fact, even in California – a state where earthquakes are 66 percent more likely to transpire than in other parts of the country, primarily due to the sheer number of fault lines in the region – earthquake insurance has to be purchased separately from a normal home owner's insurance policy.

As common as earthquakes may be in the Golden State, though, they occur on a regular basis throughout the U.S., but most of them barely perceptible. Two years ago, though, this coming August, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck Virginia, a state where earthquakes have historically been few and far between, but was still strong enough to cause serious property damage.

Loretta Worters, consumer spokesperson and vice president of the III, noted that what happened in Virginia is a perfect example of how unpredictable earthquakes can be.

"Earthquakes can strike suddenly, without warning and can occur at any time, and in any season of the year," said Worters. "That's why it's important that everyone, no matter where they live, contact an insurance professional to make sure that they have the right type and amount of insurance."

What earthquake insurance covers
For those who've gone through an earthquake and what can result in the aftermath, these natural catastrophes can leave severe devastation. Depending on how strong it is, which seismographs are able to determine, the shaking and cracking caused by earthquakes can bring significant crevices and cracks to the earth's surface, destroying buildings, homes and possessions. Fortunately, earthquake insurance can help homeowners pick up the pieces.

"Earthquake insurance covers debris removal and pays for extra living expenses you may have while your home is being rebuilt or repaired," according to the III. "Coverage for other kinds of damage that may result from earthquakes, such as fire and water damage due to burst gas and water pipes, is provided by standard homeowners and business insurance policies in most states."

Homeowners are encouraged to speak with their insurance professional if they aren't sure whether they have earthquake coverage and how much it will cost them to add it to their standard homeowners policy. They may also want to ask about the offspring of earthquakes, such as landslides and mudflows. While these events may have occurred because of a quaking event, the damage resulting from them may require separate coverage, the III notes.

Even though earthquakes can happen anywhere, history shows that they tend to occur in California, which just so happens to be the state that most immigrants who currently live in the U.S. reside. According to the Immigration Policy Center, more than 10.1 million immigrants currently live in the Golden State. Nearly half of them call California their home, as 45 percent of the immigrants there have gone through the naturalization process.

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