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Earthquake Peril Isn’t Covered By Standard Insurance

The earthquake in Haiti raised everyone’s sensibility to the destruction caused by a sudden, violent shaking of the earth’s surface. In the U.S., people most often associate earthquakes with a place like California, but earthquakes in New York State, while far more infrequent, are not unheard of.

Just days ago, a series of small earthquakes up to magnitude 2.2 occurred in rural Schoharie County. In April 2002, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck near Plattsburgh, damaging walls, foundations, chimneys and breaking windows in Clinton and Essex counties. Eight months later, a magnitude 3.3 earthquake struck near the Clinton County hamlet of Redford. Wyoming County in Western New York had two earthquakes with magnitude greater than 4.0 in the 1960s.

More than 400 earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater occurred in the state between 1760 and 1986. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) ranks New York State among the states at a “moderate risk” of earthquake, compared to a state like Alaska, which is ranked a “very high” risk.

So, is it a good idea to buy earthquake insurance?

“Many people are probably unaware that standard homeowners’, renters and business insurance policies specifically exclude covering damage caused by earthquakes. Coverage can be obtained, but it usually needs to be purchased as a separate policy or as an endorsement to an existing homeowners’ policy,” Insurance Superintendent James Wrynn said.

“People need to make informed decisions about buying any kind of insurance. They need to understand potential risks and their potential for financial loss should a disaster occur and then decide how best to protect themselves,” Wrynn said.

Unlike California, where residential property insurers must offer their customers the opportunity to buy earthquake coverage, property insurers in New York are not required to do so.

Earthquake insurance provides financial protection against the cost of damage to a structure caused when there is a sudden and rapid shaking of the earth’s surface. Policies carry a deductible, usually in the form of a percentage of the structure’s replacement value.

Premiums are based on the type and age of the structure being insured, as well as other characteristics, such as a structure’s proximity to known fault lines. The Insurance Information Institute says earthquake insurance for a brick home would likely cost between 60 to 90 cents per $1,000 of coverage in New York, compared to the Pacific Northwest where it would cost from $3 to $15 per $1,000 to insure a similar home.

While homes are not covered by standard insurance, cars and other vehicles are covered for damage caused by earthquakes under the optional comprehensive coverage part of an auto insurance policy.

Additional information about earthquake risks can be found on the websites of the Federal Emergency Management Agency,, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS),

Consumers with questions about insurance coverage should always first contact their insurance company, broker or agent. Consumers may obtain insurance information by accessing the Insurance Department’s website, or by contacting the Department’s Consumer Services Bureau from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday toll-free at 800-342-3736.


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