Thanks to Gadget Lust, Lightning Damage Claims Surge

As homes fill with iPads and plasma TVs, lightning strikes cost more
Photo illustration by 731; Static photo by Jeffrey Coolidge/Iconica/Getty Images; Television photograph by Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

A month after moving into his condo in Norton, Mass., in 2011, a lightning bolt struck Jim Crook’s attic and ran straight down the side of the house, frying a brand new 50-inch Panasonic Viera television and his XBox 360. His insurance company matched the $1,300 he lost. “The first couple months after I was pretty jittery and was unplugging the TV anytime thunderclouds would come around,” says Crook. Still, he didn’t install new safeguards other than the common surge protector. “I was so happy with the way I was covered the first time that I didn’t feel the need to upgrade,” he says.

Lightning has had a significant impact not only on gadget-happy homeowners but also on their insurance companies. The average cost per claim rose 93 percent from 2004 to 2011, to $5,112, even as the number of paid claims fell by more than 33 percent, according to Insurance Information Institute data.

The big reason: U.S. consumers are filling their homes with iPhones, plasma TVs, and other electronics susceptible to damage if they’re connected to an outlet when lightning hits. “There’s a phrase that there’s a chicken in every pot; now there’s a computer in every room,” says Loretta Worters, vice president of the institute.

Worters says the number of claims has begun to stabilize as more families equip their homes with protection systems ranging from lightning rods to surge protectors. Damage caused by strikes, including fire, is typically covered by standard homeowners and business insurance policies. Len Hathaway, a Florida resident who educates others about lightning risks, urges homeowners to protect every part of their home. “Just a little bit of voltage can get through, and it’s enough to damage the sensitive electronics in today’s devices,” he says.

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