Have you heard about the crisis in Tennessee recently? Things have been nearly shut down all over the place down there due to the unexpected. Because it is such a rare occurrence, they simply don’t know what to do with it or how to go about daily business when it happens. Are you ready? They got a little ice and then a whole inch of snow on top of it.
Yes, most of us from South Dakota will just laugh at the absurdity of shutting down over an inch of snow and ice. If we did that, we would have most of the winter as a vacation. In all fairness, we need to give those from the South a little bit of a break. They just don’t see that kind of weather very often. As such, they don’t have enough experience to really know how to deal with it.
In South Dakota (and many other northern states), we know snow and ice. Our schools don’t close until minus 20 degree temps or colder. My understanding is that the city of Aberdeen, SD doesn’t even plow unless they have at least 6 inches of snow. It happens all of the time and if you are here for any amount of time, you just learn to deal with it and move on.
Unfortunately, many homeowners become complacent with the weather-induced conditions. It is so normal, we just deal with it and move on. Unfortunately, many homeowners don’t understand the liability when it comes to weather related issues on their property. Our goal, while it may well create a little more work for you, is to make sure you are better prepared and better protected against significant financial loss.
When you sign closing papers and become owner of your own home, you take on a great deal of responsibility and liability with that ownership. This is one reason your lender will require you to take out homeowner’s insurance. Not only does it protect the value of the structure, but also protects the value of the property against any other claims.
Did you know that if someone gets injured on your property, you are responsible for the resulting costs? In most cases, this is where your homeowner’s insurance will step in and help you. While this is why we have insurance, it can still be a painful process to go through. This is why it is important to check your property and do any risk-reduction you can.
This is prime ice season. The days are getting a little longer, the sun a little warmer. Even so, snow is definitely not out of the picture yet. What this pattern creates is a thawing/freezing cycle that can produce ice skating rinks in a matter of an hour. Should a visitor or even the mailman come to visit, you can quickly find your home becoming an incident scene. Our home faces north, which means a good portion of our driveway and front walk never see direct sunlight. Any water that runs across this area is quickly returned to its solid state. I know ice.
Liability is not restricted to the very shadow of your home. Did you know the sidewalk and boulevard (that stretch of patchy grass between the sidewalk and street) are actually city property in most places? That’s right, they are part of the street right-of-way. Did you also know that you are almost solely responsible for the care of that area? That’s right. Should someone slip and fall on your sidewalk, your homeowner’s insurance foots the bill.
I don’t think any of us really want to see someone get hurt just for the sake of human care. But you also need to realize you are putting your assets at risk by not addressing a little bit of water. Be sure to remove the snow and throw down a little ice melt. If you have a fire hydrant in your boulevard, be sure to keep the snow pulled back so that the firemen can access it if needed.
Liability isn’t restricted to the winter. Have any big trees in your yard? Typically, if your tree blows over or even loses a branch without damaging any property, your insurance will not cover the cost of cleanup. That becomes an out-of-pocket expense for you. So what if it falls on your neighbor’s property? Did you know the tree was damaged or weak? If so, you may be responsible for the cost of repair since you did not take the responsible steps of reducing the risk.
How about a sump pump? Have one that runs? Where does it drain to? When I was a kid, we had one that ran so much it would actually keep the snow melted and the grass from freezing. In the middle of the winter in Sioux Falls we would have a strip of green grass down our front yard. If the water runs across your driveway or sidewalk, it can create a buildup of very slippery algae or bacteria. So you just run the hose across the sidewalk to the street gutter, right? Now you have intentionally placed a tripping hazard on property you are liable for.
Some of these are easier to address, like throwing down some ice melt. Some may be a little more difficult, like handling excess water without sending it right back down to your basement. Either way, dealing with the risks before they become a claim will most likely be much less painful than a claim.
Speaking of, how is your insurance coverage? Do you even know what you are covered against? While we can talk the general basics, each company and even each policy can be very difficult. Make sure you have coverage and then talk with your insurance agent to ensure you have the coverage you need. If you ask, they may even be willing to come to your home and do a risk assessment with you. It is time out of their day, but it is also potentially reducing the expensive claims against their company. They often see it as an investment.
Take some time to assess your property. Where do you see potential problems? In case you are so used to it that you don’t see it as a problem, ask someone you trust to help you evaluate. Just be sure you do reduce as much liability risk as possible. You aren’t just protecting the safety of those around you, but the very home you are investing in.
Written by Breck Miller
Images courtesy freedigitalphotos.net