“We learn geology the morning after the earthquake.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, poet, and lecturer (1803-1882)
Many Tennesseans assume their home and business insurance automatically covers damage from earthquakes. They are wrong.
Q. Is my home or business covered for damage from earthquakes?
Probably not, unless you have bought a separate, additional insurance policy often called an “endorsement” or a “rider.”
Most large insurance companies that write policies in Tennessee have deleted earthquake coverage during annual policy renewals in the past several years.
Insurance companies have analyzed their potential risks in the event of a future major earthquake in or near the New Madrid fault.
Q. What is the significance of the “New Madrid fault”?
Students of history and geology know that the New Madrid earthquakes — four large earthquakes in the winter of 1811-1812, plus hundreds of aftershocks — devastated large sections of Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee. Massive slippage of earth along fault lines dammed up rivers and created lakes, including Reelfoot Lake.
The mighty Mississippi River appeared to flow backward in places. Church bells were shaken into ringing as far away as Boston, with sidewalks cracked and broken in Washington, D.C.
There is a possibility that another major, damaging earthquake in the New Madrid fault area could happen anytime during the next few hundred years.
Q. How can I know whether earthquake damage has been dropped from my insurance coverage?
Insurance companies are required to inform policy holders of changes to insurance in advance. Many consumers, however, do not carefully read these notices.
Ask your insurance agent whether you have such coverage.
Q. How can I obtain insurance coverage for earthquake damage?
Ask your insurance agent or company whether you can buy additional coverage for property damage from earthquakes and ground movement. Make sure you know whether you are covered for both structural damage and damages to personal property (possessions), and/or fire caused by earthquakes.
Jim Hawkins is a general practice and public interest law attorney based in Gallatin. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. To suggest future column topics, call (615) 452-9200.