Dear PoP – Who’s Responsible?

“Dear PoP,

On February 25th there was a wind storm in DC that blew the roof off of one of the units in our apartment block onto our car and ultimately landing on our neighbor’s car. You can see in the file that the last unit in Madison Deelux is missing their shingles and aluminum siding. That’s what ended up on top of our neighbor’s car – $10 grand worth of damage, our car damage was estimated at $2-3 grand.

Both of our cars are kept in the gated garage located behind our units, which is the landlord’s property. We documented everything and reported it to our management company on the 25th as well as followed up with them in the week that followed. They told us to get estimates for the damage, which we did, and finally (yesterday) gave us their insurance information.

We received a call today from their insurance and were told they would not be paying for anything. Our insurance, which we called on February 25th and have been keeping apprised of the situation, said they can’t do anything unless we pay our $500 deductible first, in which case they will cover the rest and go after the building owner’s insurance to re-coop their losses. Even if we pay our deductible, which we will never be refunded, our insurance rates will go up as a result of this claim.

We believe that as owners of the rental property and the roof that flew off of it, the property owners insurance should be responsible. Having done all that we know to do, we would value any advice on how to move forward.”

Hmm, this is a tough one, I thought for ‘acts of God’ events that your own insurance is responsible even if it comes from somebody else’s property is responsible for the damage. Anyone ever deal with a similar situation? What do you guys think?

49 Comment

  • I thought “Acts of God” gave them reason to say no.

  • My gut tells me the responsibility falls on the owner of the car. If you park in the street and a tree falls on your car it’s your resp, not the city’s right? I think this is a similar case.

    I’m sure a lawyer or expert on insurance will comment and be able to clear it up.

    • It’s not a tree, it’s part of a building. Apples to Oranges.

    • Friend of mine had an old hooptie that was totaled when a tree limb fell on it. It was next to national park service land, and they paid him $2,500. That was good money for a clunker.

  • I’m not a lawyer, but I deal with construction and I’ve had a neighbor’s rotted tree fall on my car in a storm.

    If you have comprehensive, then acts of god shouldn’t matter, but you still have to pay your deductible. Also, part of a building falling off is not an act of god as building construction codes are designed to account for high winds. If part of a roof blew off, I think it’s a construction defect and the contractor on the building would be liable.

    The insurance company isn’t going to help you and it’s not in their interest necessarily to go to trial. They’ll settle. You have to go after the landlord in small claims court to recoup your deductible.

    Finding a lawyer less than $500 is a fools errand. Just go to small claims court and see what a judge says.

  • It seems to me that they would only be responsible if the roof or whatever pieces that fell off were not installed properly to begin with. Which would probably be very hard to prove, otherwise it seems like an act of god or force majeure. Which is where your insurance comes in to play. That’s what insurance is for right?

  • Seems to me like everyone has a responsibility to maintain their buildings. Because every roof in the city didn’t fly off, it indicates that their roof was either poorly maintained or improperly installed.

    If you slipped on ice on a person’s property, they can be held liable if they neglected to maintain the sidewalk, driveway, etc. I would think the same principle applies here.

  • Im sorry but Im looking at the picture of the roof on the car and trying to figure out how on earth there is $10,000 dollars worth of damage under there?? If I was the management I would have blown you off too. Did you get more than one estimate for the repairs or did you bring it to your brother in-law for an “estimate”…

    • The post says that there was just $2-3K damage to their car. It doesn’t take much trauma to cause that kind of repair bill.

      • His post said HIS care had 2-3k in damages, but that his neighbor’s car- the one the debris finally landed on- had 10k. And I agree- hard to imagine how that was 10k worth of damages from that picture.

  • I am no lawyer but I watch the People’s Court and am a Judge in the Court of Public Opinion. I am pretty sure that unless the property owner shows gross negligence, it is an Act of God and you gotta pay. You would have to prove that the roof was in bad disrepair and the owner was negligent. They actually had a case like this on the People’s Court where a lady went after a grocery store owner for a cart hitting her car and the owner showed that he had places for people to put carts, had people collecting carts and showed the weather report that it was a very windy day. The lady lost.

  • A similar thing happened to my old roommate last year in Arlington. During one of the snow storms, a gutter pipe fell on top of her car which was parked in the driveway, denting the hood pretty badly. (the pipe was frozen solid with ice inside) Her insurance said his homeowners insurance should cover it since the damage came from something that fell off his house. Supposedly, his disagreed. (doubt that he even asked though) Needless to say, our landlord, who was a complete jerk during the entire time we lived there, refused to pay for it. $500 sucks, but could be worse.

  • With all due respect to everyone chiming in about “what they think,” their thoughts are effectively irrelevant if they don’t have a law degree. You need to ask a lawyer.

  • My law degree and I say file a claim, pay your deductible, and if your insurance co. won’t seek recoupment of your $500, you can take the property owner to small claims court, which is kind of fun if you don’t mind wasting a day of your life. Whether the property owner will pay the judgment is another matter. If he doesn’t, you can attached the judgment to the building, so if he ever wants to sell it he needs to pay you your $500 plus interest.

  • You and your neighbors should both get rid of your cars and buy bikes. Bikes are better than cars and people who ride bikes are better than drivers!

  • If it’s a big management company, there’s probably a clause in your lease saying they’re not responsible to damage to your car. Read it carefully and see if it’s there.

    Also, have you tried your renters insurance? Might be a long shot, but worth a try.

  • I agree with those saying eat the $500 deductible and get your own insurance company to reimburse you for the rest. Where do you get the information that you rates will be raised? This probably depends on your insurance company but there are many that would not raise your rates. If paying $500 seems like a disaster to you, then definitely do not have a $500 deductible. If they raise your rates, then get another insurance company – lesson learned.

    When I had my car and was living in Adams Morgan I had a few car break-ins. I called my insurance company and was able to change to a comprehensive policy with zero deductible and it only cost me $4 extra per month, plus the told me my rates would not go up for placing a claim as a result of a car break-in (I tested this once after my car was broken into again, and it was true). I had State Farm insurance (and still would, but I no longer have a car!).

    • Thing is, it’s hard to get a different insurance policy after you’ve filed a claim. When you apply, they always ask if you’ve filed a claim in recent years.

  • GO to today’s earlier post about good advice. There’s something in there about choosing your battles wisely. You have insurance for a reason. Pay the $500 and savew yourself from having to worry about it again.

  • This reminds me — what happened to the weekly-ish columns from the law firm? I found those quite informative and interesting.

  • The insurance policy for your car provides coverage for damage that occurs in certain situations specified in the policy. Read your policy. If this is one of those situations that is covered by the policy, regardless of whose fault it is, your first recourse is through your insurance company. You file a claim with them. They pay your claim and then pursue reimbursement against any other party that may be more liable – in this case, the building’s insurance company.
    Your only other option is to pursue a suit against the building’s insurance company yourself. If you’ve got the time and money to do that, by all means go for it. Since your damage was $3k, you could pursue that in small claims court acting as your own lawyer. At the end of the day, it’s a simple straightforward legal question – whether a building owner is responsible for damage caused when wind detaches a portion of the structure and it hits someone or something. I have not done the research but my gut says no, unless there was some negligence in the design or maintenance of that portion of the structure which predisposed it to becoming detached.

  • Even if the building owner’s insurance would cover this (and I doubt they would), they’d probably require that you exhaust any other applicable insurance first. In other words, you’d probably have to file with your car insurance company anyway.

    Pay the deductible, get your insurance to fix the damage, and move on with your life.

  • DC is also a contributory negligence jurisdiction. Meaning, in this cause, the property could claim that you contributed to the damage by failing to secure your property, e.g., leaving your car outside in a wind storm. You have to show that the negligence is entirely on the other party–that’s a high bar. I’d just pay the deductible and move on.

    • me

      Failing to secure property? I would think that could maybe apply if he was parked out on the street, but he was parked in his assigned parking spot that was given to him by the landlord. That is as secure as he could get the car.

  • Agree with all of those that say pay the deductible – and the one that said check with renters insurance.
    Your insurance company will investigate and see if they can recoup costs. The time value of you personally trying to deal with a lawyer to get the building insurance to pay coupled with the risk that you may have to pay the attorney costs if you recoup nothing is much higher than $500.
    Also your renters insurance rates are probably tiny so even if they go up by 50% (unlikely)you aren’t talking too much.

    It sucks (and I’m sorry), but that is life.
    Just count your lucky stars you weren’t out there and got physically hurt.

  • Too much people’s court.

    There’s no attorney cost liability if you go to small claims court to recoup your $500 deductible. It’s not at all difficult to prove a construction defect if part of the roof flew off the building. Make sure you document (take pictures) of where the roof came off (I.e. the missing roof part).

    Do it.

  • In the District of Columbia, insurance companies may only raise your premiums for a ‘chargeable accident’. That means that the policyholder is 50% or more responsible for the incident.

    I suspect the letter’s author is just making an assumption that their insurance rates would go up, and not that the insurance co. actually said that. But if by chance the insurer did say that, the author should try to get something in writing (the name of the individual who said it, etc) and call them on it.

    As for the bitterness expressed about having to pay the deductible and never getting it back….yeah. That’s what a deductible is. Whenever you get an insurance policy, you should always ask yourself, ‘How much am I willing to pay if something happens?’. If you don’t have $500 to pay it, then you should have gotten a lower or no deductible policy.

  • I am constantly amazed at how little about “adult” things the so called “adults” who post are.

    Has the OP ever even bothered to read their own insurance policy? How do you get to be an adult, have all kinds of insurance (medical, rental, car etc) and not understand how the system works.

    I know it’s the new American way that “every thing” is always someone elses fault, but folks accidents do happen. Wind, bad weather happens. It’s life folks and thats EXACTLY why we have insurance. And yes, it is YOUR insurance thats responsible.

    Not to mention, I’ve never seen an apartment building, condo building or parking garage that rented parking spaces that didn’t also have a contingency in the lease that waives all responsibility for any damage that might happen to you vehicle for any reason while parked there. Read your lease before you waste any more of your time.

    You are going to go through days of lawyer interviews, court appearances and phone calls for a $500 deductible that you have a 99% chance of not getting back?

    Pay your 500 bucks and move on with your life.

    • Thanks to all who responded.

      We’ve done our due diligence on all fronts, as we are “adults” and aware of what our lease and our insurance policy says.

      We did inquire with local property owners, and landlord-tenant lawyers regarding their thoughts and experience in situations like this and they echoed some of the sentiments above. In order to prove the damage was the building owners fault, we would have to show that the building contractor improperly installed the roof.

      Since the building owners had the missing roof immediately replaced the day after the wind storm, with no inspection done, we have no way of proving they were at fault.

      To those who have read their car insurance policy and are so certain that the insurance company can not/will not raise your rates for any damage occurring from an Act of God, you are incorrect. We conferred with the underwriting department of ours and they will indeed be raising our rates when our policy comes up for renewal if we file a claim.

      From this experience we are taking away the following:

      1. expecting people to do what is right, regardless of any legal obligation, is foolish
      2. keeping our only vehicle in our “secure” parking spot does not mean it is protected
      3. preparing for the unexpected doesn’t always mean you’ll be prepared when the unexpected happens
      4. this totally sucks but it could have been MUCH MUCH worse

      Thank you all again!

      • If you chose to dig in, there will be evidence of a repair order for the building. Every building keeps these records.

        They’re trying to get away with something. Don’t let them.

  • I say pay the 500 bucks and then throw a few bricks through the windows of the building or do some other compensatory damage. It’ll make you feel better.

    More seriously, though, I had a similar incident in which my car was side-swiped by a garbage truck. I couldn’t locate the truck that did it, even though neighbors saw it happen. I contacted my insurance company, they had me go to a specific garage, and the total was $6-8K. I think my deductible was also $500, and the insurance company told me that since I had never filed a claim in 8 years, nor had ever had a moving violation (only a couple of parking tix), my rates would stay the same. In fact, in the three years since of having no tickets or claims, my rates have decreased.

    So, if you have a clean record, you may be able to use that to negotiate with your insurance, or go to another company for better rates .

  • Something very similar happened to me a few years ago. I was parked on the roof of my work’s parking garage and rocks from the building’s roof blew off and shattered my sun roof and several windshields.

    I went after the building and the garage, but the consensus was that wind is an act of nature, so I was ultimately responsible.

  • how about a meeting with the owner of the building that was damaged. I am sure this could be part of that same claim to repair the damage to the property. I would try the old school idea of a nice conversation with the neighbors…what’s the worse that could happen…you pay the $500 and look like the bigger person?

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