Law review: Beware of the snow damage insurance exclusion

Ravn R. Whitington / Porter Simon

The dog days of summer are here. The mercury malevolently rises, and heat records ignominiously fall world round. But here in Truckee-Tahoe, snow is still on the mind (and on the ground).  

The past winter wreaked havoc. So much so that federal and state agencies granted disaster relief to many of the region’s counties. FEMA and the Small Business Administration have provided, and continue to provide, assistance to businesses and homeowners adversely affected by the crushing amount of Sierra cement served up this winter. And local municipalities have eased permitting requirements for those trying to rebuild from the literal crush of snow. 

This is good. Help is needed. Help that many a homeowner thought would be provided by homeowners insurance. Deck destroyed by snow. Make a claim. Get covered for the loss. Not so fast.  

Claim denial letters are rolling in this summer. Homeowners are finding that physical damage to their residences caused by snow – especially damage to decks and other appurtenant structures – is excluded from insurance coverage. This is frustrating, but not entirely surprising.  

Here’s the thing about insurance coverage, a lot of stuff is excluded. Damage caused by volcanoes or nuclear war – forget about it. Read the actual language of a homeowners policy and prepare for a breadth of exclusions; and be ready to count snow damage among them.  

A common provision found in many homeowners insurance policies excludes coverage for loss caused by “freezing, thawing, pressure or weight of water, ice or snow, whether driven by wind or not to” decks, piers, patios, footings, foundations, walls, floors, roofs, ceilings, etc. This exclusion is the basis on which many a local snow claim has been denied.  

A denial letter can be devastating, but it is not necessarily the end of the story. If the policy was purchased through a broker, give the broker a call. Good brokers will work to find other policy provisions that may trigger coverage and can leverage the insurer to cover the claim. A licensed public insurance adjuster may also be able to aid in the claims process. Filing a complaint with the Department of Insurance might yield results, but don’t hold your breath. And, of course, there are always lawyers. 

But at the end of the day, the insurer is only required to provide coverage for damage it contracts to insure. If the loss suffered by the insured is specifically excluded from policy coverage, there is not much to be done. The key is to identify uninsured exposure before a loss occurs and to purchase additional coverage, or at least be aware of the risks. So, dust off those insurance policies and sit down for an invigorating read…or just call your broker and save yourself the headache.  

Between snow damage and fire risk, adequately (and cost effectively) insuring a home in Truckee-Tahoe is a tricky proposition. The travails of life in the high Sierra are not lost on policy underwriters. “Living the dream,” you say? Well, be ready to pay.  

Ravn R. Whitington is a partner at Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada. Ravn is a member of the firm’s Trial Practice Group where he focuses on all aspects of civil litigation. He has a diverse background in trial practice ranging from personal injury to complex business disputes to construction law, and to all matters in between. He may be reached at or ©2023 

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