Tag: ash

Insurance for Volcanoes


Lava from volcano“It’s just part of living here,” one of Hawaii’s residents is quoted as saying over the weekend. He wasn’t planning to evacuate from his home, even though fissures were opening in his neighborhood and lava flows from the Kilauea eruption on Friday were approaching. “I’ve been through this a dozen times.”

As of today, though, he may be joining the nearly 2,000 people facing mandatory evacuation, not only because of fire and lava but because of dangerous gases.

If you have friends in Hawaii, or anywhere where volcanoes threaten eruption, you naturally have some important questions about protecting yourself. I had the questions – but wanted good answers. So, I started my research online . . .

l. is there such a thing as volcano insurance?

No. According to a CNN news report, “There’s no such a thing as volcano insurance or lava flow insurance.”

Yes. But the very next news item, coming from The Insurance Information Institute, https://www.iii.org/article/volcanic-eruption-coverage says the following: “Most home, renters and business insurance policies provide coverage for property loss caused by volcanic eruption when it is the result of a volcanic blast, airborne shock waves, ash, dust or lava flow. Fire or explosion resulting from volcanic eruption also is covered.”

Maybe. And a third news feature says, “It’s going to come down to your policy and your underwriter.”

Hm. So, onward . . .

2. So what MIGHT be covered?

State Farm insurance has a 2-page document about eruption coverage that feels authoritative. https://www.statefarm.com/simple-insights/residence/how-volcano-damage-is-covered-on-your-insurance  The article starts with the exact same quote that we saw above, from the Insurance Information Institute, namely . . .
“Most homeowners policies provide coverage for property loss caused by volcanic eruption when it is the result of a volcanic blast, airborne shock waves, ash, dust, or lava flow. Fire or explosion resulting from volcanic eruption also is covered.”

3. That language sounds encouraging. So what’s the problem?

First, note these two important weasel words that appear in both sources: “Most policies” and “[damage] resulting from.”
When you read “Most ” you must assume that there are some policies that do NOT cover volcanic eruption. And when you see “resulting from” you must ask, “What else could cause this damage?” That’s what brings you to the exclusions.

4. What are the exclusions?

If you’ve been subscribing to Advisories from Emergency Plan Guide for a while, you probably can provide at least some answers to this question.

Here’s more quoting: Most homeowners insurance policies do not cover damage from earthquake, land tremors, landslide, mudflow, or other earth movement regardless of whether or not the quake is caused by or causes a volcanic eruption.”

The key word here is “earth movement.” THAT seems to fall under coverage provided by earthquake insurance. Here in California it’s a totally separate policy offered by companies through the CEA – California Earthquake Authority: https://www.earthquakeauthority.com/ (There are limits on how much coverage you can purchase for the building and for personal property, and  also on what is actually covered. For example, demolition is typically NOT covered by the policy.)

And I take the sentence quoted in red above to mean further that if earth movement causes a lake to slosh over or a stream to divert onto your property, then the resulting “flood damage” would also not be covered. The typical homeowner’s policy does NOT cover flood damage. For that, you need a separate policy for flood insurance! (More on flood insurance here.)

OK, I now know more about separate earthquake insurance and flood insurance.

5. Can I get a special endorsement to my homeowners’ policy to cover volcanic eruptions?

If you live in a low-risk area, probably yes. But consider this list of states with ACTIVE volcanoes, meaning, you may NOT be in a low risk zone:

Alaska (98 known active volcanoes!)
California (21)
Hawaii (16)
Oregon (42)
Washington (16)

I could find no reliable info about possible costs for volcano endorsements.

6. What about damage to my landscaping, garden sheds, ditches and berms I put up to divert the lava flow, etc?

Not covered. And you won’t be reimbursed for efforts to remove lava or ash from the land afterwards.

7. What about my car?

If you have comprehensive coverage at the time of the eruption, and your car is overtaken by lava or burned up by flying cinders, it’s probably covered. And a vehicle crash that happens during or after a volcanic eruption would likely be covered just like any other crash. If you leave the car behind, and it is damaged over time by falling ash or dust, it probably WON’T be covered.

8. I rent. What about my personal possessions I had to leave behind?

Your landlord has no responsibility for damage to your personal possessions, so take as much as you can with you if you evacuate. If you have renter’s insurance, be sure take photos of your items (before and after if possible) so you can file a claim.

9. What about my lease if I have to leave my apartment or house?

Generally, your landlord must provide a “fit and habitable” place for you to live. If you can’t return to your rental because of damage, your lease will determine if you are eligible for any refund, if you have to pay any back rent, or if and how you can break the lease with no penalty. You should read your contract NOW so you are familiar with its terms. You should take those photos of your possessions now, eruption or no eruption. And if you try to cancel any long-term lease, be sure to get legal advice.

10. What else do I need to know?

Just as with flood and earthquake insurance, you must have the coverage before the disaster hits. In some cases, there’s actually a waiting period before coverage goes into effect.

A personal comment from Virginia – I’ve rented and owned and had both kinds of insuance. I’ve lived in flood country and earthquake country and climbed to the top of a smoking volcano. I even held an insurance license at one time. None of this makes me an expert on this particular subject. What I do know for sure, though, is that insurance policies by their very nature are difficult to understand. This may be a good time to review whatever policies you have so you know just what will be covered in a disaster — and what won’t be covered. Having that knowledge will make you sleep better and you’ll probably be able to negotiate better insurance coverage, too.

The more we know, the better prepared we can be!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team