PERSONAL INJURY BLOG

Insurance Coverage Disputes and Premises Liability: Hurricane Sandy a Wake-up Call for West Coasters

Friday, November 02, 2012
Though Hurricane Sandy had a massive impact on the nation’s eastern seaboard, its effects will have little direct impact on the west coast with major exceptions: people in California who lost friends and family members as a result of the devastating storm. Less significantly impacted are the many travelers whose plans were disrupted; many east coast airports were closed and most airlines suspended flights to the region for several days in late October. Notwithstanding those substantial impacts, millions of California residents will not remember this storm a month from now. So, what can California residents learn about the catastrophe that has struck the east? 

Though natural disasters may be uncontrollable, reactions to such disasters are not. Furthermore, preparations for natural disasters are the responsibility of apartment building owners, business owners, and government agencies responsible for maintaining public safety. When public safety is compromised after a natural disaster due to negligent or reckless behavior by those tasked with ensuring such safety, litigation may result. 

California is not a hurricane prone state but massive tropical storms have caused major damage in the past. Hurricanes Joanne, Kathleen, and Nora all left their mark on the state after they devastated parts of Mexico. By the time those hurricanes did impact California, they had been downgraded to tropical storms. But with these storms came torrential rain. Such rain—whether the result of a hurricane or not—often leads to major landslides and flooding in California.  Though also rare, tornados are another weather event that can cause significant damage especially from wind and flying debris. Since such events are so rare, many home and business owners may not have adequate insurance coverage for such damages. However, Hurricane Sandy can be a wake-up call for west coasters to check their insurance policies.

Hurricane, torrential rain that leads to flooding, tornados, earthquakes, wildfires, and mudslides: all rare and perhaps improbable but the New York Subway being submerged under water was also considered unlikely. Furthermore, New York has now been hit two years in a row by storms that seemed improbable a decade ago. Before disaster strikes is a good time to check insurance policy coverage rather than being shocked if a disaster occurs. But insurance coverage disputes and allegations of bad faith insurance may not be the only legal challenges that arise after a natural disaster. 

Before such a disaster occurs, building codes and adequate safety should be ensured by building owners. Residents of apartment buildings, condominiums, and rented homes should have an expectation that if a disaster occurs, the building owner will have provided all legal steps to ensure safety. If they have not, a premises liability lawsuit may be warranted.

For Californians, perhaps earthquakes are the first natural disaster to come to mind. Though earthquake insurance may be prohibitively expensive for most people, it makes sense for those who can afford it and also live extremely close to fault lines.But buildings are supposed to be up to California’s safety codes. Even if a person cannot afford the insurance, they have a right to expect that the place they live adheres to safety standards. This is especially true of large apartment buildings. If an earthquake strikes and damage or injury occurs, a premises liability lawsuit may recover compensation. If a building collapses, a water line inside the home ruptures, or a gas line in the property is compromised due to the disaster, a building owner may need to compensate residents for not keeping the premises safe if the building was not up to code.    

After a natural disaster—whether in New Orleans, New York, Sioux City, or Los Angeles—lawsuits are bound to emerge. Most of these will arise from insurance policy claim disputes. When torrential rain is to blame for much of the damage, disputes about flood insurance and general homeowners insurance will arise: was the damage caused by flooding or did the flooding occur because high wind damaged the building and allowed water inside? Other questions may constellate around whether or not a publicly maintained road, bridge, or walkway was repaired in a timely manner for businesses to operate after a disaster. In such a case, a governmental agency may be named in a business interruption claim. These are only a few of the countless questions that may arise in response to a natural disaster and the ensuing personal injury law disputes, premises liability, and property damage compensation cases.


Natural disasters may not be the same nationwide. But there are two commonalitiesamong them: they will occur again and they will all result in litigation. Though each state’s laws differ, what will happen over the next several months in response to Superstorm Sandy will be educational for California lawyers and their inevitable clients.





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