Two weeks ago, Southern California experienced unusually strong Santa Ana winds which brought gusts up to 140 mph in some places. Southern Californians, particularly in the Pasadena area, were forced to clean up debris left by the storm. A staggering 18,000 tons of debris was cleaned up in Pasadena, which is the city’s normal total for one year. Parts of Pasadena were left without power for seven days; approximately 419,000 customers effected by the outages at one time. The State estimates that the hurricane force winds caused at least $40 million in damage.
This last weekend, a heavy rainstorm pummeled Los Angeles for two days, causing additional damage to already compromised structures. The local mountains are now capped with snow, and the debris from the wind and rainstorms are clogging up the storm drains. The National Weather Service has issued a special weather statement for Southern California from December 15 through December 17th warning that "…strong and potentially damaging offshore winds are possible Thursday night through early Saturday afternoon. The winds are estimated to be the strongest Friday morning, and then once again Friday evening through Saturday morning. Wind speeds are predicted to range from 25 mph to 40 mph with gust to 65 mph."
Southern Californians may be disturbed to find out that storm damage to interiors of structures not caused by "direct force" of a storm may not be a covered loss. Many property insurance policies exclude rain damage to a building’s interior and furnishings unless rain entered as a result of "direct action" of a storm on the building’s roof or walls, such as a hole in the roof or walls. In Diep v. California Fair Plan Ass’n (1993) 15 CA4th 1205, 1210-1211, the Court decided that under such an exclusion, there is no coverage for storm damage to the interior where a section of the roof had been removed for repair. The rain entered because the workers removed the roof, not because of the storm.
Fortunately, under Tento Int’l, Inc. v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. (9th Cir. 2000) 222 F.3d 660, 662, 664, there may be coverage for insureds in that situation where a policy does not exclude losses resulting from third party negligence, such as a roofing contractor. If the storm damage to the interior was a result of a roofing contractor’s negligent failure to provide temporary covering on a roof, then the damage may be covered. At a time where Mother Nature is unkind to Southern California, knowing what your insurance policy may or may not cover can help in the claims process.