Recently, I received a telephone call from a homeowner who had suffered flooding in his basement due to snowmelt and wanted to know if his Standard Flood Insurance Policy (SFIP) would provide coverage for him.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has posted a number of websites and articles discussing the need for flood insurance due to the risks of snowmelt and spring thaw. In one such article, FEMA references the potential flooding risks of spring as, “the time of year when the warming sun begins melting the winter snow pack. And, snowmelt is not the only cause of spring flooding. April showers may bring May flooding.” FEMA recommends that the first thing you should do is buy flood insurance.
FEMA’s other website for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is at floodsmart.com. Floodsmart.com has a page entitled, What Causes Flooding, and lists several separate causes, two of which are “snowmelt” and “Spring thaw.” Of course, each page urges you purchase flood insurance.
In another article entitled, Spring Rainfall, Snow Melt Can Cause Flooding, FEMA has several recommendations for homeowners, “[f]irst and foremost on the list is to get flood insurance.” They also provide several ways of protecting your home and include some facts, a few of which are as follows:
- Make sure downspouts carry water several feet from your house to a well-drained area. – About 2,500 gallons of water will come from a 1,000 square foot roof with one foot of snow depth across the roof. This much water may cause problems if allowed to drain next to the house.
- Remove snow from around rural yards to minimize soft, wet soil conditions. Remember that a 20-foot diameter 10-foot high pile of snow contains about 2,600 gallons of water. Move the snow to well-drained areas.
Pretty amazing how much water can be created by relatively small amount of snow. But apparently, that amount or even perhaps more is still insufficient to be covered under the SFIP. As noted many times on this website, “flood” is defined in the SFIP as:
A general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or of two or more properties (at least one of which is your property) from… [u]nusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source.
The SFIP Dwelling Form also has several exclusions, and does “not insure for direct physical loss caused directly or indirectly by…water, moisture, mildew or mold damage that results primarily from any condition…substantially confined to the dwelling; or [t]hat is within your control, including…design, structural or mechanical defects. . . .”1
Several Courts have addressed this issue and have come down on the side of the insurance carriers. In Segal v. Great American Insurance Company,2 the Plaintiff’s property suffered flooding after heavy rainfall and evidence existed that “’undefined’ flooding did occur nearby.” However, “[n]either of the properties adjacent to plaintiff’s property…had flooding conditions on the day in question.”3
The Court denied coverage as “the flooding was so substantially confined to the described premises that it is excluded from coverage,” and noted that regardless of “evidence that undefined ‘flooding’ occurred nearby…the immediately adjacent properties were not flooded, and the first factor in finding a covered flood condition, is that the flooding be shared by more than one property and its adjacent properties. It follows then that, whether or not the particular rain caused flooding nearby it did not give rise to a covered flood condition at plaintiff’s property”4
Similarly, in Donahue v. American Family Mutual Ins. Co.,5 a rainstorm caused flooding in the homeowner’s basement, however, “none of her neighbors sustained any damage as a result of the storm,” and the owner’s property was “less than two acres in area.” American Family denied the homeowner’s claim asserting that, “Donahue [could not] show that two or more properties were all or partly inundated with water.” Donahue argued that the fact that the area where her home was located, “received rainstorms [for a period of three days] provide[d] sufficient evidence to conclude that heavy rains had inundated the area.”
Ultimately, the Court denied the homeowner’s claim and stated that, “Donahue [could not] show that two or more properties were all or partly inundated with water,” and rejected the homeowner’s argument that heavy rains in the area were sufficient evidence of inundation.
So, unless you live on more than two acres or your neighbor is also at least partially inundated with flooding, you will likely be denied coverage by that flood insurance you were so vigorously recommended to purchase.
With this last winter being as brutal as it has been, more claims like this are not far off.
I’ll leave you with a (mildly) related tune – Credence Clearwater Revival’s Who’ll Stop the Rain:
2 Segal v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 390 F.Supp. 1074, 1077 (E.D.N.Y. 1974).
3 Id. at 1076.
4 Id. at 1077
5 Donahue v. American Family Mutual Ins. Co., No. 04-3878, 2006 WL 549389 (D. Minn. Mar. 6, 2006).