If the sky is falling, will your home insurance cover the damage?
In mid-February 2013, a 10-ton meteorite exploded above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, injuring more than a thousand people and causing untold amounts of property damage, including collapsed buildings and shattered glass. Then, just a few days later, a 143,000-ton asteroid came within 17,000 miles of Earth — mere inches when talking about space distance.
And while events like this remain extremely rare, they do give you reason to ask: Does homeowner's insurance cover damage from objects that fall from the sky?
"The short answer is yes," says Michael Barry, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. "Most standard homeowner's policies will cover not only meteors but asteroids, jet engines or even satellites."
According to Barry, an insurance company considers these types of perils "falling objects," which also may include things like tree limbs, missiles and spacecraft.
But, as with most homeowner's insurance matters, there are some distinctions. Here are a few things to keep in mind if Chicken Little suddenly starts shouting.
It must be a direct hit
According to Nationwide Insurance agent Robert Kraft, a standard homeowner's policy will cover only damage to your home if the falling object hits the house directly. For instance, if a jet engine lands in your living room, costs to repair the hole in the roof to the wrecked flooring — and everything in between — will be covered.
"But if a meteor lands across the street and that causes some pictures in your house to fall off the walls, or your flat-screen TV comes crashing to the floor, that stuff won't be covered," Kraft says.
There's one important exception to this rule. If a meteor crash-lands across the street and that causes exterior damage to your home — shattered windows, perhaps — your homeowner's insurance will cover that damage.
"The rule of thumb is that any exterior damage that results from a falling object is going to be covered," Kraft says.
As soon as any object falls through your house — whether it's a meteor or a tree limb —take photos as soon as possible.
"If you're sitting at home and an airplane engine comes crashing through the roof, get out your cellphone and snap as many photos as you can," Kraft says. "This is going to help you process a claim much more quickly and smoothly."
Kraft says it's also a good idea to take an annual photo inventory of your home.
"This can be as simple as a few general pictures of each room in the house," Kraft says. "That will make it much easier to prove what you had in the house if something comes out of the sky and causes serious damage to your property."
Make repairs quickly
If an object falls through the roof of your house, the insurance company is most likely going to pay for the repairs. But if you don't cover up that hole within 24 hours, wind and rain may cause further damage to the home — damage that won't be covered by your policy.
"You need to mitigate as quickly as you can," California insurance agent Jeremy Schaedler says. "You don't want to be stuck with the cost of rain or wind damage just because you didn't put a tarp on the roof."
Filing a claim
When it comes to falling objects, Schaedler says, the claim process isn't really all that different from other homeowner's insurance claims.
"These types of events are so extremely uncommon that there really isn't any unique ‘playbook' on how to handle this particular type of claim," Schaedler says. "I suggest homeowners follow the normal claims process, carefully read their policies and contact their insurance provider as soon as possible."
In the end, Barry says, homeowners really shouldn't lose much sleep over the possibility of a space rock suddenly bursting through the roof in the middle of the night.
"You have to go all the way back to 1908 to find an event similar to what happened … in Russia," Barry says. "I think people's energies could be better spent fortifying their homes and insurance policies against things like tornadoes and hurricanes and other wind events. That's a much more likely threat than something falling out of the sky."
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