Home Insurance Quotes
Bombs away: Insurance takes cover from war and biological attacks
The news is troubling. According to a recent report by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, "The threat of a biological or nuclear attack is likely to occur somewhere around the globe by the end of 2013." The largest threat is the possibility of a biological attack, which the commission concluded is of greater concern than a nuclear attack.
If a terrorist group or an act of war destroyed your home or car, will your insurance come to your aid?
The Insurance Information Institute (III) states that the difference between "acts of war" and "terrorism" are clearly defined in most insurance policies.
"Standard homeowners insurance policies include coverage for damage to property and personal possessions resulting from acts of terrorism," says Bob Hartwig, president of III. "Acts of war" are clearly excluded in standard home insurance policies, but not acts of terrorism. He says that because home insurance policies cover damage from fire, smoke and explosions under almost any circumstances — including those that arise from a terrorist attack — you would be covered.
Hartwig adds, "After 9/11, the technical definition of ?war' or an ?act of terrorism' had some theoretical ambiguity. It was left to the federal government or the state insurance department to provide a clear definition for the industry." Hartwig notes that the Secretary of Treasury decides changes to insurance coverage for terrorist acts --including any ramifications for car and home insurance.
If a group such as Al-Qaeda bombs a residential neighborhood, your property is covered under your home and auto insurance policies. "After an incident, there will be a declaration by the Treasury Department on whether or not an act of terrorism occurred," he explains. "It has to be certified officially that it was an act of terrorism and not an act of war declared or undeclared. If a home is covered by a policy, a homeowner will be given the same coverage that they would normally get for any damage resulting from a terrorist attack."
A terrorist act, unlike an act of war, must be perpetrated by an entity that is not a sovereign state.
The Code of Federal Regulations (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85) defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government and the civilian populations in the furtherance of political or social objectives."
"Acts of Terrorism"
An act certified by the Secretary of Treasury, in concurrence with the secretary of state and attorney general, to be an act that is dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure and to have resulted in damage within the United States (or outside the country in the case of a U.S.-flagged vessel), or on the premises of a U.S.-led mission.
"Acts of War"
Any act occurring in the course of declared war; including armed conflict between two or more nations; or armed conflict between military forces of any origin.
A conflict fought between two or more nations without a formal declaration of war. When a government avoids "declaring war," it is primarily trying to circumvent constitutional safeguards and being bound to the established laws of war. Often these acts are called "police action" or an "authorized use of force."
"A war does not have to be declared for it to be considered an act of war," says Hartwig. "It often depends on the policy. Some policies do have an exclusion for 'authorized use of force' and acts that are considered 'warlike.'"
When it comes to acts of war, you're out of luck. Your home and auto policies do not cover acts associated with war. Nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological attacks qualify as acts of war. "There has never been an example where the U.S. declared an act of war on a group of people, even after 9/11," Hartwig says. "The nature of the [war] declaration by a high-ranking U.S. official, such as the President and Congress, would decide if it would be excluded in a standard insurance policy."
Biological attacks by terrorists also fall outside coverage by insurance. Jeff McCollum, a spokesperson for State Farm, says, "If a terrorist group is identified as the group responsible for burning down homes across the country, the damage would be covered," he says. "If they go around the country planting big bags of anthrax in homes, it would fall under most contamination exclusions." This type of exclusion is generally applied to mold, but it also extends to other forms of biological contamination such as anthrax.
"If someone has to wear a biohazard suit to clean up your car or home, it is probably excluded," explains McCollum.
Policies for condominiums and co-ops would cover personal possessions that are destroyed or lost due to an act of terrorism, like an explosion. Insurance payments for damage to common areas such as the roof, basement or other structures depend on whether the association or co-op board purchased terrorism insurance to cover those areas. Renters insurance policies are similar when it comes to coverage for personal property, but damage to the apartment complex itself would have to be covered by a terrorism policy taken out by the property owner.
Your car under attack
If your car is damaged or destroyed in a terrorist attack, car insurance policies will cover the damage if you have purchased comprehensive coverage. Most auto lenders require you to buy comprehensive coverage if you have a loan or a lease on your car. If you have only liability coverage, your car would not be covered for damage resulting from a terrorist attack.
However, if your car becomes contaminated with a biohazard, don't count on your auto insurance to cover the decontamination required to clean it. Many auto insurance policies also have a biological exclusion that falls under contamination or pollution, so it is best to re-read your insurance policy to learn the details.
Nuclear attacks: Cross them off the list
Under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), owners of commercial properties, including apartment buildings, must be offered the opportunity to purchase terrorism coverage.
But when it comes to nuclear hazards, McCollum says, "Nuclear ?anything' is generally excluded. It doesn't matter whether it's a leak from a nuclear plant nearby or a bomb explosion. If nuclear energy is involved in some way, it's not covered," says McCollum.