The full damage and devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey is not yet known and will likely be felt for months to come. While the most pressing issues facing Insureds at this time are the devastating impacts of water and/or wind damage, we all learned some unfortunate lessons from Hurricane Sandy and Katrina specifically caused during storm surges and/or flooding (and after the water recedes) which lead to unexpected clean-up costs and/or pollution legal liability issues (including but not limited to):
- Historic/Pre-Existing Contamination – Properties having historical or pre-existing contamination could be disturbed and, subsequently, carry pollutants to multiple locations resulting in the cross-contamination of various parts of the property and/or neighboring properties.
- Landfill Containment Breaches – Heavy water infiltration can cause landslides carrying with it pollutants and/or contaminated waste water into nearby waterways or sensitive third-party receptor areas.
- Floating Drums of Chemicals and Storage Tanks – Drums containing hazardous waste and storage tanks containing oils and other chemicals could be raised afloat and damaged during transport from their original locations, thereby distributing pollutants downstream.
- Sewerage Authorities System Back-ups – Sewerage authorities have limited storage and processing capacity, therefore, large unanticipated volumes of water could result in the overflow and/or release of raw untreated sewage.
- Mold Damage – Mold can grow at alarming rates given proper moisture, temperature range and food source (cellulose-based substrate) following a saturation event.
While property policies may include some pollution-related coverage, it’s imperative that insureds, if they have environmental insurance policies, place their carriers on notice, carefully follow the environmental claim reporting instructions and fully understand any “emergency response” coverage provisions and policy nuances.
It’s prudent for insureds to report their environmental claim to their carriers immediately. If cost estimates for remedial activities are available, they should be sent to the carrier for approval. When submitting proposals, request that the carrier approve the costs as “reasonable and necessary” pending a coverage determination.