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East Coast Homeowners May Have to Pay for Earthquake Losses

Aug. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Homeowners won’t be covered by standard property insurance policies if there’s any damage following today’s 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered near Richmond, Virginia.

Earthquake protection is generally excluded from standard homeowners’ insurance policies, and consumers have to purchase coverage either as a separate policy or an endorsement to an existing policy, said Michael Barry, a spokesman at the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

Most people who buy coverage live in quake-prone states, such as California, Washington and Missouri, according to Janece White, a vice president at Warren, New Jersey-based Chubb Corp., the insurer of commercial property and high-end homes.

“It’s very infrequent,” that residents who live on the East Coast purchase earthquake coverage since during their lifetimes there’s never been a temblor that warranted it, White said.

A magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck at 1:51 p.m. local time about 40 miles northwest of Richmond, Virginia, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Buildings in New York City and Washington shook after the quake and it was also felt in areas including Boston, Connecticut, New Jersey and Toronto.

Consumers who have so-called floaters to insure valuables such as fine art or all risk contents policies generally will be reimbursed for quake damage to such possessions, White said. If homeowners want their houses protected, they must buy separate policies, she said.

Policy Cost Varies

The cost of earthquake policies varies based on the location and the value of the home. Deductibles for earthquake policies vary by state and range from 5 percent to 25 percent of the overall value of the property, White said.

A policy from Chubb for earthquake insurance in New York is 50 cents per $1,000 of homeowners coverage, or about $250 a year on a home valued at $500,000.

“A lot of people do purchase event protection after an event occurs because they realize, ‘Hey, that could happen to me,’” said Dick Luedke, a spokesman for Bloomington, Illinois-based State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Homeowners generally can’t purchase earthquake coverage for as many as 60 days after an earthquake because of the potential for aftershocks, Luedke said.

‘Doesn’t Make Sense’

“For most of us, having earthquake insurance doesn’t make sense,” said Sheryl Garrett, founder of Shawnee Mission, Kansas-based Garrett Planning Network Inc., a network of fee-only financial planners. That’s because residents of areas where earthquakes rarely occur generally don’t need the coverage, and policies in parts of the country with frequent earthquakes are more expensive to compensate for the increased risk, she said.

Homeowners considering purchasing earthquake coverage should check with the insurer about how it defines an earthquake and whether their policy covers related losses, such as water or fire damage triggered by an event, Garrett said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexis Leondis in New York aleondis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Levinson at rlevinson2@bloomberg.net.

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