Editorial Note: We earn a commission on partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect the opinions or ratings of our editors.
A series of back-to-back winter storms left millions of Texans without power and water in mid-February 2021. The statewide disaster also left Texan homeowners with perhaps billions of dollars in damages.
As Texas recovers from the freeze, homeowners and other policyholders could end up filing more insurance claims from this calamity than from any other weather event in state history. It’s especially remarkable for a state that’s been ravaged by its fair share of costly hurricanes.
Bekah Nelson, spokesperson for insurance company USAA, said that as of February 19, the company had received more than 30,000 claims related to recent winter storms, the majority of them from Texas. The most common types of claims are for power outages and frozen water pipes, she says.
Also as of Feb. 19, State Farm had received nearly 19,000 claims in Texas from the winter disaster, spokesman Chris Pilcic said. Most of these claims are associated with broken water pipes, he reports.
So how can Texans better tackle insurance claims for all these issues? Here is an overview.
Spoiled Food Insurance Claims
Don’t forget your frozen or refrigerated foods that have spoiled during a power outage.
A standard home insurance policy usually covers food that has gone bad during a power outage. Coverage for spoiled food can range from just $500 to $2,500, although the typical limit is $500. So, if the total tab for spoiled food exceeds the amount stated in your policy, you will have to absorb the rest of the cost yourself.
Many insurers do not apply a deductible to food spoilage claims. But if yours does, it might not be worth complaining about. For example, if your deductible is $500 and your policy covers up to $500 of spoiled food, you will not receive any money from the insurance company.
Some insurers cover, for an additional fee, food spoiled during a power outage, even if the cause is usually not covered by their standard home insurance policy.
In some cases, a utility provider will reimburse customers for spoiled food if a power outage was the provider’s fault. In Texas, however, the blame for the widespread power outages cannot be assigned to a single utility, but rather to the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The nonprofit agency operates a power grid that handles about 90% of the state’s electricity.
Insurance for burst water pipes
Across Texas, many residents are dealing with damage from frozen water pipes during the winter chaos. Fortunately, home insurance usually covers damage caused by a frozen pipe that bursts. This coverage normally includes repairs and cleanup due to water damage caused by the burst pipe.
While it probably wasn’t a factor for anyone in Texas, an insurer can deny a claim for water damage caused by a burst pipe if you intentionally turn off your home’s heat. Also, coverage may not come into effect if your insurer determines that you have not adequately protected your water lines from freezing.
In 2020, State Farm handled just 75 insurance claims in Texas for damage from frozen water pipes, with the average claim in the state totaling $10,300, according to Pilcic. Last year, State Farm’s average nationwide claim for a frozen water pipe was $15,500.
Insurance for additional living expenses
Power outages during the freezing winter forced countless Texans to seek refuge in hotels, as temperatures inside their homes plummeted. Bursting water pipes also made some houses uninhabitable.
Home insurance will cover hotel bills and other additional living expenses (known as ALE) when a disaster covered by the policy essentially evicts you from your home. Besides hotel bills, ALE coverage reimburses you for other additional expenses you have to pay because you can’t live at home, such as restaurant meals, emergency clothing, and other unforeseen expenses.
But – and this is an important but – not all home insurers will cover FTA just because of a power outage. Check your home insurance policy or call your insurance agent to verify coverage. In Texas, insurers such as Pacific Specialty will cover FTA if a power outage renders a residence uninhabitable. Coverage begins when the residence is uninhabitable for 48 consecutive hours and ALE coverage can last up to seven days.
If you had to temporarily move elsewhere due to water damage caused by a burst water pipe or due to damage to the home due to the weight of snow, ice or sleet , you can file an ALE claim. Make sure you have your receipts for all your additional expenses.
Damage to vehicles in winter
During the Texas weather disaster, many icy trees and tree branches collapsed, and some of them damaged cars parked nearby.
If you purchase comprehensive coverage under your car insurance policy, it will pay for damage to the car caused by a fallen tree or tree branch. Keep in mind, however, that a global claim payment will be reduced by the amount of your deductible.
A home insurance policy can cover the cost of removing a tree that landed on your house or lawn during a storm.
Tips for filing complaints
No matter what type of insurance claim you need to file, here’s advice from the Texas Department of Insurance, Nationwide Insurance, Georgia Department of Insurance, Amy Bach of United Policyholders, and Bob Hunter of the Consumer Federation of America.
- Review your policy. Determine what’s covered, what’s not and what the deductibles are. If you are unsure of coverage, contact your insurance agent or insurance company.
- Document the damage. Take photos and videos of the damage caused by the winter disaster.
- Keep receipts for any temporary repairs, that may be covered by your policy. However, do not make any permanent repairs until an adjuster has assessed your damage, as this could jeopardize the payment of a claim.
- Keep track of all your communications with the insurance company. This should include the date, name and title of each person you speak with and what was discussed.
- If a claims adjuster has to go, plan to be home at that time so you can report any damage.
- Get repair quotes several contractors and compare them with the adjuster’s report before settling your claim.
- Keep proof that you paid the deductible on your complaint. A Texas state law prohibits contractors and roofers from promising to waive a deductible or provide a deductible discount. The law allows insurance companies to ask for proof, such as a receipt or voided check, that you paid for repairs up to your deductible.
- Pay for repairs out of pocket if the claim payment will be less than your deductible. This way you can avoid a deposit that will go to your file but not result in a check.
- Defend yourself. “Give your insurer a chance to do the right thing,” Bach says, “but politely assert your right to the full coverage you paid for.”
- Be ready to negotiate for a fair settlement of your claim.
- If you have a major claim, such as extensive damage to the home, consider hiring a public adjuster to help you with the paperwork and litigate on your behalf.
- Be patient. Hunter warns that some insurers will go above and beyond to ensure your claim is paid promptly and properly, while others may fight a claim vigorously. “You will learn a lot about your business when you file a claim,” he observes.