Tornado Property Damage: What Is Your Legal Responsibility?

by annbailey on October 3, 2012

  • Sumo

Alabama Tornado Recovery May 2011(U.S. Property Law and generally)  Tornadoes cause significant amounts of property damage every year. With high winds and quick speeds, property owners unfortunate enough to be in a tornado’s path face challenges from nature, insurance companies, and even other individuals.

Tornado Damage to Property

Tornadoes cause substantial wind damage to property. This causes high stresses on structures and can lead to damaged windows, roof damage, and in severe cases, complete structural failure. Wind damage can also cause damage to property by disrupting containers on the property containing chemicals or other materials. Oil drums, fuel tanks, and chemical storage containers are at risk of becoming breached in high velocity winds, damaging the ground or other property.

Projectile damage can also result from tornadoes. The high winds from tornadoes can pick up and move large objects like vehicles and large structural components as well as smaller items such as tools and boxes. Not only will the inevitable landing cause damage to the property, but the property can strike property owned by other people, creating entangled property insurance claims.

Protecting Your Property

Preparing for a tornado is difficult. Tornado alerts can come and go quickly, reducing the time allowed to board up structures and move critical objects to the interior of a home. In an area prone to tornadoes, consider strong roll-up shutters, as these will protect the interior of a residence from flying glass and debris.

On the property, ensure that any containers of oil, gas, or liquid are securely fastened to the ground. With fewer potential missiles comes diminished liability and reduced damage. Ensure that any sensitive or expensive materials are kept in low-lying areas, like ditches. Equipment that is tied down, low to the ground, and covered has a better chance of avoiding damage from tornadoes.  Preventing all damage from tornadoes is impossible. When damage does occur, it is important to retain legal counsel.

Retaining an Attorney

Retaining an attorney after a storm is an appropriate precaution against potential tort liability.  After a disaster, insurance companies will insure the area in full accordance with the policy. Unfortunately, owners often fail to read their insurance policies, and many policies specifically exclude certain types of damage, such as water damage or vehicle damage.

Property owners may also be liable in tort for negligence if they failed to take reasonable precautions against foreseeable harm. While severe weather is often seen as unforeseeable, individuals living in a region frequently impacted by tornadoes may reasonably infer that tornado damage may occur in the future. During a tornado, property is moved around at high speeds, affecting other property. Having legal representation on hand to address any demand letters may head off legal action.

After a disaster has struck, the safety of one’s family is paramount. Retaining legal counsel is a sensible precaution after a tornado has struck. A lawyer can advise clients on their options when accepting settlements from insurance companies. If the damage is severe and property is unaccounted for, attorneys can also help owners avoid a potential lawsuit.

Ann Bailey assists in legal research and files this report in conjunction with the property insurance claims office of Doyle Raizner, LLP.  The firm, a Houston, Texas based specialty law office, assists property owners with all manner of storm damage insurance claims, including tornado and hail, putting their extensive years of experience to work protecting the insurance rights of property owners.

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Ann Bailey is an artist and former TV journalist and currently contributes articles for the arts, business and legal communities.

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