Here in southwestern New Hampshire, we have had about 80 inches of snow fall in the last 30 days. You know you have had too much snow when your 8 year old neighbor cries because there is no school again today. All the snow piling up prompted my friend and client, Mike to call me. We joked about the snow canyons we are building with our plowing and snow blowing and wondered where we are going to put the results of whatever this weekend’s storm brings. When we finished sharing our horror stories, we got down to Mike’s questions. With all the roof and deck collapses being reported in CT and MA; would he have coverage if he had a similar problem? Would the company find him responsible for not shoveling the deck or raking the roof and deny a claim? He insures both his home and his business with us and was worried about both buildings since his home has a pitched roof and the office is a flat roof building.
I told Mike coverage on his office building depended on what policy form he has. If he had a basic policy form, there is no coverage, but on a special form the peril of collapse due to the weight of ice and snow is covered. After reviewing his policy, I let him know he had the right coverage.
I then let Mike know that his homeowner’s policy also covers collapse due to the weight of ice and snow. So the policy would cover him if his roof collapsed, his deck fell off the house or his garage or shed collapsed. I did mention that newer policy forms have tightened the definition of collapse and now state that a building cracking, bulging, bending, leaning, settling, shrinking, or expanding is not in a state of collapse and would not be covered. It has to fall down for coverage to be triggered. The newer forms also exclude damage to gutters and downspouts.
Mike’s other question was would either company feel he was negligent for not raking the roof or shoveling the deck. Regardless of personal or commercial coverage, the policy requires you to use ‘reasonable’ means to protect property. Is it reasonable to climb on a roof covered with snow and ice and during a snowstorm? Is it more reasonable for a 28-year-old to do this than someone who’s 48 or 78? What about some one in good health versus someone with arthritis? What if the property owner just doesn't know their roof can't support a dozen or more inches of wet snow? What is reasonable? As long as you didn’t intend to cause the loss by your lack of action the company won’t find you negligent.
Keep in mind though, prudently, Mike should either hire someone to rake the roof or do it himself. Mike should shovel the deck both to keep it from collapsing but also because it is a means of egress from the house. It would be difficult to escape the house through four feet of snow piled on the deck and stairs if there were a fire or other emergency. Keeping walks clear of ice by salting or sanding is also a homeowner’s responsibility.
I did tell Mike that since he is a klutz and falls over his own feet for little or no reason, maybe he should stay off the roof. Better to let the experts take care of it.