Tampa Bay Times
Piney Point scare raises insurance questions
Hundreds had to evacuate their homes and businesses as officials worked to contain a wastewater leak in Manatee County. Are they covered?
PALMETTO — Hundreds were evacuated earlier this month as officials prepared for significant potential flooding from a wastewater leak at the old Piney Point phosphate plant. The evacuation orders were lifted late Tuesday, but homeowners and business owners who left are facing several days of unexpected costs from the evacuation.
Many may be asking, “Does my insurance cover that?”
It might, according to Mark Friedlander, Florida representative for the industry group Insurance Information Institute.
“Keep all your receipts and document everything,” he said.
Manatee County officials evacuated those closest to the old plant after fears that its shuttered 480-million-gallon wastewater reservoir would collapse and release a wall of water. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the county on April 3 as crews worked to contain a breached reservoir, which had released an estimated 165 million gallons of polluted water as of Tuesday into Port Manatee on Tampa Bay.
For those who had to evacuate, Friedlander said that standard homeowners and renters policies may cover some of the expenses because ratepayers lost the use of the home they pay premiums to insure. The key for determining if it’s covered, he said, is when “civil authority prohibits use” of a home,
such as during a mandatory evacuation.
Step one, Friedlander said, is for residents to call their insurance companies to let them know about the evacuation and to walk them through their policy.
Coverage for homes, he said, is typically limited to 30 percent of what a home is worth, and for apartments, 30 percent of a renter’s personal property limit. That includes expenses such as lodging and meals purchased at restaurants.
“Say your home is worth $200,000,” he said. “Thirty percent of that would be $60,000 of coverage.”
That coverage is typically paid through reimbursements, he said, which an insurance agent can help policyholders process.
Businesses may be less fortunate.
If they were affected by the evacuation, they could be covered under a business interruption insurance policy, but only 30 percent of companies nationwide have this kind of coverage.
In a worst-case scenario, if there had been flooding, business interruption policies would not have covered water damage, but many businesses have separate flood insurance in Florida.
Friedlander urged Floridians to use the Manatee County disaster as a reminder of the coming hurricane season and the need to take stock of their possessions and insurance coverage before a crisis happens.
“The Piney Point emergency stresses the importance of having a home inventory in case you need to file a property damage claim,” he said.
That includes a list of possessions, video and photo of each room that shows electronics and furniture, and footage of a home’s exterior. Friedlander recommended keeping it on a flash drive or backed up in the cloud so it’s easily retrievable following a disaster.