Take Hold, Thunder Road - Basics of Auto Insurance and Heavy Rainfall

Springtime wisdom states that "April showers bring May flowers." An old adage to be sure, but despite whatever cynicisms I may hold it's one that I've found to be - for the most part - entirely true.

What the proverb fails to disclose, however, is just how cold and miserable those showers are going to be. Or whether my auto insurance is going to cover the damages created by driving through the resulting floodwaters.

Whether it be driving through a parking lot lake, slogging through a backroad torrent, or nearly getting carried away by a main street riverbed, a great many of us have braved the water-logged roads to make it to work, school, or even just the grocery store. But the question remains: if those waters damage your vehicle, will you be covered?

Unfortunately, most basic policies offer little to no flood protection. If your policy only offers collision or liability insurance, a flood damage claim will likely leave you high and very un-dry, since these types of coverage only cover incidents that involve you hitting another car or an inanimate object. So while you may be able to recover if, for instance, your car hydroplanes into another vehicle, general damage from rain or standing water will be outside the scope of most policies.

As such, in order to be fully protected from rain, floods, and other unpredictable disasters, an automobile owner needs to have comprehensive insurance coverage. Such coverage will cover the cash value of your car for any damage from rain, hail, standing water, or running water, even if you caused the damage by, for instance, driving through high water. Granted, you'll still have to pay a deductible, but it's much better than no coverage whatsoever.

Furthermore, comprehensive insurance will cover the cost to replace your car if your car ends up totaled due to rain or water damage. For reference, most insurance companies consider a car to be a total loss when either (1) the car is so severely damaged it cannot be safely repaired; (2) it would cost more than the worth of the vehicle to repair it; or (3) the damage to cost of repair ratio is too high (in Wisconsin, this ratio is 70%. So if the cost to repair a car is 70% of the value of the car or higher, the car is considered a total loss).

In summary, then, while there may be some ways in which rain and flood damage are covered under traditional collision or liability policies, recovery under these types of policies are very limited. So unless you have comprehensive automobile insurance coverage, you may want to rethink driving through that parking lot pond.

"Well fine!" you might say. "Who needs to drive? Last year during the big flood I saw my neighbor take his kayak to work. I'm going to do that too!"

Unfortunately Pocahontas, I'd have to advise you to sit tight. Wisconsin's Village of Menomonee Falls v. DNR found that flooded backyards and street gutters cannot be declared navigable waters.

Looks like whatever's just around that river bend is going to have to wait.

Danny Garcia is an Associate at Parks Law Offices, LLC, whose practice emphasizes Criminal Law, Landlord/Tenant Law, Employment Law, and Litigation. His favorite stormy-weather activity is wearing Wellingtons while belting 'Singing in the Rain' under the nearest street lamp.

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