Who is liable for damages after a power failure? It depends

Recently, while at my gym, a friend was telling others about some issues in her home in West Akron. She and a few neighbors suffered extensive electrical damage inside their home a few months ago after a power outage.

When the power came back, she’s not sure exactly what happened, but the damage to her home cost her around $10,000, she estimates. She hopes to get a lot of it back through insurance, but she’s still working her way through the process.

“The electrician said he had never seen an electrical box burn out like this,” she said. She also had to replace a pump in her spa and the electrical panel in her stove. Half of his lights on his first floor still don’t work.

Some of the work needs to be done immediately, while the rest is pending review by her insurance company for major rewiring within her walls, she said.

This led us to talk about accountability when something like this happens. Should she have called Ohio Edison? Would they be responsible for anything or was it something covered by home insurance?

I told him I would find out.

Electrical damage is not always covered

The short answer: it depends, but it’s probably not the utility’s responsibility.

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

“If the utility was at fault or negligent, it can be held liable; however, usually things like weather, trees, animals, cars, etc. probably wouldn’t. I encourage the client to contact Ohio Edison and see if they can work out a deal. After that, if they are not satisfied, I recommend that they contact our call center at 800-686-7826,” he said.

Additionally, affected customers should check with their insurer, he said.

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

“Customers have the option of filing a claim with our claims department if they experience property damage as a result of a service disruption. Our claims representatives would investigate the matter, including the nature and circumstances surrounding the power outage, and respond appropriately. Customers can submit a complaint by calling our customer service team at 800-633-4766.”

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

Insurance may also not cover damage caused by power outages

I also called Dean Fadel, president of the Ohio Insurance Institute, the P&C insurance industry trade organization, for his perspective.

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

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

Fadel said home warranty policies can cover damages. Some insurers also have special policies, which would cost more, for additional electrical damage coverage.

Fadel stressed the importance of making sure appliances and TVs have built-in electrical surge protectors or, if available, are plugged into a surge protector. Failure to properly protect your appliances or TV can result in no coverage from the insurer, he said.

While I had Fadel on the phone, I would ask him for advice when a problem arose at home. Obviously no one foresees a pipe bursting or a tree falling on the roof or other things that might happen. And Murphy’s Law usually results in anything going wrong on a weekend or after hours.

Sometimes you have to first alleviate this problem by calling a plumber or electrician before getting “approval” from the insurer.

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

He suggested taking pictures with a smart phone or camera to prove the damage.

Also, be sure to have contact details for the repairer or company in case you need assistance with your claim, he said.

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

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