When Critters Go Bad

How insurance treats damage from various varmints

Rodents, vermin, insects, wildlife: You know they’re out there, whether you live in a city, suburb, or rural area. Most of the time, you peacefully coexist with them. 

But sometimes, they invade your home or your car and do a lot of damage. You don’t worry about it, though, because your auto or homeowners insurance will cover those losses—right? 

Well, not always. Most insurers follow guidelines that govern when and how they cover the damage when critters are involved in a claim. Here are some common scenarios: 

Scenario 1: You park your car outside,  and some rascally rodents, looking for a spot to camp out, crawl under the hood and chew through some wires. They are gone by the time you get in your car the next morning, but because of their handiwork, you can’t start the engine.

Is it covered? In a word: yes. Auto insurance almost always covers damage done to your vehicle by an animal. That’s because you can’t do much to prevent these kinds of situations; maintenance won’t keep those rodents away, nor will it stop a flock of angry birds from pecking dents into the roof, for instance. It’s considered a comprehensive loss (one that’s not the result of a collision), so as long as you carry comprehensive coverage, your insurer should pay for repairs. 

Scenario 2: Although a major termite infestation has been building for a couple of years, you’re just now discovering it because you failed to keep up with regular inspections. Now, you’ll not only need to fumigate your house, but you’ll also have to repair the damage the pests have done to your windows’ wood frames.

Is it covered? Probably not. Most homeowners policies exclude damage that is caused by insects and animals. In other words, if basic home maintenance could have prevented the damage, your insurer is unlikely to pay for any losses. That’s why it’s smart to have a pest-control firm inspect your home annually; many will now guarantee their work for a year. 

Scenario 3: A family of rats takes up residence in your attic and gets to work on a plumbing line. When they finally manage to gnaw through it, the pipe bursts and the water damages the attic, as well as the flooring of your master bedroom below.

Is it covered? Yes—and no. Most homeowners policies cover “sudden and accidental” losses to your dwelling that result from animal infestations. In this case, that would include the water damage in your attic and bedroom. But it would not include repairs to the damaged pipe. A little home maintenance can help you avoid this type of scenario, too: If you periodically check to make sure the grates or screens blocking entrance to your home’s crawl spaces are in good order, critters will have a much harder time gaining access in the first place.

Photo (top): CHROMORANGE / Claudia Otte / Alamy Stock Photo