Who is responsible for house damage as the result of a power outage? It depends|Betty Lin-Fisher

·4 min read

While at my gym recently, a friend was updating others about some problems at her West Akron house. She and a few neighbors sustained a lot of electrical damage inside their homes a few months ago after a power outage.

When the electricity came back on, she’s not sure exactly what happened, but the damage to her house has cost her about $10,000, she estimates. She hopes to recoup much of that through insurance but is still wading her way through the process.

Betty Lin-Fisher
Betty Lin-Fisher

“The electrician said he’d never seen an electric box fried like that,” she said. She also had to replace a pump in her hot tub and the electrical panel of her stove. Half of her lights on her first floor still don’t work.

Some of the work needed to done right away, while the rest is pending a review by her insurance company for extensive rewiring in her walls, she said.

It got us talking about where the responsibility lies when something like that happens. Should she have called Ohio Edison? Would they be responsible for anything or was this something covered under home insurance?

I told her I’d find out.

Electrical damage isn't always covered

The short answer: It depends, but most likely it is not the responsibility of the utility.

Matt Schilling, spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio said liability could depend on the situation.

“If the utility were at fault or negligent, they may be liable; however, typically things like weather, trees, animals, cars, etc. they probably wouldn’t be. I would encourage the customer to contact Ohio Edison and see if they are able to work out an agreement. After that if unsatisfied I’d recommend they contact our call center at 800-686-7826,” he said.

Additionally, affected customers should check with their insurance provider, he said.

Lauren Siburkis, spokeswoman for Ohio Edison, sent me this information:

“Customers have the option of filing a claim with our Claims Department if they experience property damage following a service disruption. Our claims representatives would investigate the matter, including the nature and circumstances around the power outage, and respond appropriately. Customers may submit a claim by calling our Customer Service team at 800-633-4766."

She added: “Outages due to weather are beyond our control, and although we attempt to restore power as quickly and safely as possible, extensive damage can take several hours or days to repair. While FirstEnergy does not reimburse customers for equipment damaged or food lost during a weather-related outage, customers are encouraged to contact their renter/homeowner’s insurance to determine if their policies cover such losses.”

Insurance also may not cover damages from power outages

I also called Dean Fadel, the president of the Ohio Insurance Institute, the trade organization for the property and casualty insurance industry, for his take.

The answer for whether insurance will cover the damage is also “it depends.” It is best to check with your insurance agent or company on your coverage, said Fadel.

“Electrical issues are interesting, because it's one of those things where it depends,” he said. “If it is the result of lightning, then the adjuster will find burnt wiring, which is a clear sign that it was lightning and generally there's coverage under the homeowner's insurance policy for that.”

Fadel said home warranty policies may cover damage. Some insurers also have special policies, which would cost extra, for extra electrical damage coverage.

Fadel stressed the importance of making sure appliances and TVs either have built-in protections from electrical surges or when applicable, are plugged into a surge protector. Failure to properly protect your appliances or TV may result in no coverage from the insurer, he said.

While I had Fadel on the phone, I asked him for advice when a problem happens at the house. Clearly, no one plans for a pipe to burst or a tree to fall on the roof or other things that could happen. And Murphy’s Law usually results in whatever going wrong on a weekend or after business hours.

Sometimes you need to get that problem mitigated first by calling a plumber or electrician before you get the “approval” from the insurer.

“You’ve got to mitigate the damage as soon as possible; I think any prudent person wants to do that,” said Fadel.

He suggested taking photos with a smart phone or camera to provide proof of the damage.

Also, make sure you have the contact information for the repair person or company in case you need collaboration for your claim, he said.

Beacon Journal staff reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ To see her most recent stories and columns, go to www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Who is responsible for damage after power outage? It depends