So, your neighbor has a big beautiful poinciana. Its branches hang over where you park your car – it’s nice to have the shade in the summer, but it drives you nuts when it drops all those tiny leaves every year. Still, your neighbors take care of it, trim it back when it needs it, and it’s pretty when it blooms. You tolerate it. And then, in the next hurricane, a limb breaks off the tree and smashes onto your car. Who is paying this repair bill?
Unfortunately, I have some bad news – it’s probably you.
Legal liability circumstances could get complicated during a storm, but generally speaking, if a person prepares reasonably in advance of a storm, they are unlikely to be held liable for what happens during the storm itself. If that tree branch had been half broken off already, you had asked your neighbors to deal with it and your neighbor had ignored it (and you), you might be able to argue that they had been negligent and maybe a court would find that they were responsible, but the odds are not in your favor.
There is a thoroughly established doctrine of law inasmuch that everything that happens during a storm is an “act of God”. The only exception to this rule would be where the damage could have been prevented had reasonable precautions not been taken.
There are two takeaways here: take reasonable precautions for securing your possessions to prevent them from causing damage to anything else; and consider what preventative measures you can take to protect your own possessions from damage, including purchasing comprehensive insurance.
Most of the preparedness steps that you should take to manage your liability risk are the exact same steps you would take to protect your property in advance of a storm. Walk around your property and cut down the palmetto branches that are looking droopy. Get up on a ladder and ensure that any coconuts get cut out of your trees (or get someone to do this for you). Once you have all your potential projectiles down on the ground, either get them off to Marsh Folly or at least tucked into a sheltered corner of your yard.
Any outdoor furniture that you have should be secured – brought inside if you can, turned upside down if you can’t, sunk into your pool if you must (please, no glass table tops in the pool!) – so that nothing from your yard is going to be picked up by the wind and thrown into your house.
Whether your boat is your next priority or your first, your boat also needs your attention. If you’re leaving it in the water make sure you check (or recheck) your moorings – at least every two years as a condition of your insurance but more frequently won’t go amiss, ensure that your bimini is down and secured, check your bilge pumps are working and your propellers are lifted. Or, get your boat hauled and secured “on the hard” until after the storm passes.
If you’ve followed all these steps, and probably more as most of us tend to do (especially when we have more time to plan), you’re pretty likely to have met any threshold that might be set for reasonable preparations in advance of a storm, and thus pretty likely to not be found liable for any damages that might be caused by your home, boat or other possessions crashing into someone else’s property during the storm.
Once you’ve got your bases covered to manage your liability exposures, you’re almost there to manage your own exposures from damage from your neighbor’s projectiles. Get windows boarded or close your shutters and your house is about done, really.
Many people bring their motorbikes inside if they can, or park them in a sheltered spot. If you have a garage that actually has room for your car, use it! Otherwise park your car in the most secure spot you’ve got.
Ideally, we don’t have to suffer a loss in the first place, but comprehensive insurance is an additional tool to consider having in your hurricane readiness kit. Many do not realize that comprehensive motor insurance can include coverage for hurricane damage – both Freisenbruch-Meyer’s car and motorbike policy forms automatically extend coverage to hurricane perils for comprehensively insured vehicles. Make certain that your home is adequately insured with a Sums Insured that represents the full replacement cost of the home so that you do not find your hurricane claim settlement discounted by an underinsurance penalty. Check that your boat’s valuation is up to date and that your insured value lines up with your most recent survey.
At the end of the day, as Benjamin Franklin once said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It also keeps your neighbors happy!
75 Front Street, Hamilton