Are You Insured Against ‘Acts of God?’

village houses with damaged roofs and uprooted trees

If you follow the teachings of the Bible, all things are, in essence, an act of God: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” – Isaiah 45:7. 

But in the insurance world, the definition of “act of God” is slightly different. For insurance companies, an Act of God generally refers to any event that makes it impossible to conduct one’s affairs normally but for which no one in particular is liable.

Natural disasters and extreme weather events qualify as “acts of God” under this definition. But while insurance companies will provide coverage against many of these sorts of phenomena, they won’t necessarily cover everything. So when is an “act of God” not covered, and what are the criteria for insurance coverage?

Acts of God: What’s Covered by Insurance

The exact definition of an Act of God varies according to your insurer. In general, natural disasters (or “perils”) such as cyclones, earthquakes, and other natural events qualify as an Act of God because they affect a large number of people while not coming about due to any negligence on the part of human beings. Most insurers will provide coverage for Acts of God — it’s one of the major reasons for having homeowners insurance in the first place. Still, your insurance company may decline coverage if human negligence is involved — for example, if a “random” house fire has been caused by the homeowner’s negligence.

Homeowners should be wary of blindly trusting that their insurance policy will cover an Act of God. Some policies specifically exclude certain events or disasters, particularly if the area where the home is located is particularly prone to those sorts of events. For example, in California — an area particularly vulnerable to earthquakes — your standard homeowners insurance policy may not cover earthquake damage, making it necessary to purchase separate coverage (more on that below).

Named and Open Perils

Insurance companies primarily distinguish what they will cover by designating “named” and “open” perils. What does that mean? Let’s start by establishing that a “peril” is anything that your insurance policy covers (or potentially covers); in other words, something that causes a loss. This is distinct from a “hazard,” which makes a peril or loss more likely.

The difference between “open perils” and “named perils” can be somewhat confusing, and the terms are often misused. Here’s the basic rundown.

“Open perils” coverage means that anything and everything that happens to your possessions is covered unless it’s specifically excluded from that coverage. So, for example, if an earthquake devastates your home, and your policy doesn’t specifically exclude earthquake damage, your home will be covered.

“Named perils” refers to a specific list of perils (usually 16, though some states have fewer) that are covered by a standard home insurance policy. A “named perils” policy would cover everything on the list of perils but not necessarily other types of damage that fall outside the list.

Which exact perils are covered will depend on which form of homeowners insurance you have. For example, the HO-1 Basic Form will only cover ten named perils:

  • Aircraft
  • Explosions
  • Falling objects
  • Fire
  • Rioting
  • Smoke damage
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Vehicles
  • Windstorm

The HO-2 Broad Form, which is both more common and has better coverage than the HO-1, covers the ten perils listed in the HO-1, plus six additional perils, namely:

  • Weight of ice, sleet or snow
  • Accidental overflow of steam or water
  • Sudden and accidental destruction of an appliance like a water heater or centralized AC
  • Freezing
  • Sudden and accidental damage from power surges
  • Volcanic eruption

Do You Need Extra Insurance?

In some cases, it’s prudent to take out additional insurance to protect yourself and your possessions against Acts of God, both in the technical and literal sense. After all, biblical prophecy foretells an increase in natural disasters as the end times grow near:

Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since mankind has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. – Revelation 16:18

Taking additional coverage for natural disasters is a vital step in protecting yourself and your family, but it can also make homeowners insurance difficult to afford. One way you can save money is to compare homeowners insurance quotes and see about finding a better deal with another insurance company. You can also talk to your insurer and make sure you have just the right amount of coverage you need and aren’t overpaying for coverage you aren’t going to use. You might also talk to your insurer about finding some discounts, such as bundling your home and auto insurance together, or discounts for certain occupations, such as health care workers and first responders.

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