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Earthquake Damage May Cost Eastern Homeowners

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The 5.8 magnitude earthquake that shook the East Coast on Tuesday afternoon may have shaken up homeowners in more ways than one: they may have to foot the bill for any repairs out of their own pockets instead of relying on their homeowners’ insurance policies. Most East Coast policies lack coverage for earthquake damage, so homeowners may be on the hook if they find the quake resulted in a need for repairs.

A Bloomberg News report cited Michael Barry, a spokesman at the Insurance Information Institute in New York, as saying that protection from earthquake damage is generally excluded from standard homeowners’ policies, resulting in the need to purchase separate coverage or a rider to an existing policy.

The U. S. Geological Survey said that the quake, which was centered near Mineral, Virginia in the “Central Virginia Seismic Zone,” was a “reverse faulting on a north or northeast-striking plane” in a region known for shallow focal depths—which means that the quake was felt in a broad geographical area, from North Carolina to Chicago to Martha’s Vineyard. It damaged the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral, as well as buildings as far away as New York City. It shut down nuclear power plants in the region and alarmed residents, and many buildings were evacuated, including the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Pentagon.

Earthquake insurance can be expensive in parts of the country where quakes occur with frequency, such as California, Missouri, and the state of Washington, and most people in areas where quakes are infrequent—such as the East Coast—do not even think about buying it. In fact, Janece White, a vice president at insurer Chubb Corp., pointed out in the report that it was “very infrequent” that someone in the East Coast region would purchase coverage, since a temblor causing damage had not occurred in their lifetimes.

White added that floaters on policies to cover specific valuables, or all-risk contents policies, will generally pay for damage to those possessions; however, a dwelling is not covered without purchase of a separate policy.

Nervous Easterners now in search of such a policy may have to wait at least 60 days before they can add earthquake insurance to their coverage, according to Dick Luedke, a spokesman for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., who said in the report, “A lot of people do purchase event protection after an event occurs because they realize, ‘Hey, that could happen to me.’” However, the possibility of aftershocks precludes immediate purchase.