The Importance Of Volcano Insurance

Bizarre clauses in a renter's insurance contract

I have volcano insurance.

I know, it’s probably not going to come in handy. And yes, one of the first things that pops up if you search for volcano insurance is a Family Guy clip in which a shady salesman convinces a dimwitted Rhode Islander to purchase such coverage. But hey, it’s not like I asked for it. It came standard.

I have a simple renter’s insurance policy, and starting in September I make four monthly $30 installments to pay it in full. It’s cheap and it’s a pretty good thing to have. Even though the building owner is responsible for getting coverage for damages to the building itself, tenants are responsible for insuring their own property against theft, fire and yes, volcanic eruptions.

Perhaps insurance companies are trying to take your thoughts off just how many ways you can lose your property by assuring you in unintentionally humorous ways that you’ll be covered for any number of improbable scenarios. Should a “riot or civil commotion” trash my place, I’m covered. If the apartment is hit by an aircraft, “including self-propelled missiles and spacecraft,” I just need to file a claim.

A friend of mine who works in insurance insists, rightfully so, that these are necessary no matter how unlikely they are. Sadly, there were probably saw plenty of claims for damage from plummeting space shuttle debris in 2003. And there’s always the occasional report of a derelict satellite due to crash to earth in parts unknown.

It does give a somewhat lighter picture of insurance companies, though. So often they’re portrayed as heartless people trying their best to wiggle out of paying for your misfortune despite the many months where you have paid into a plan. But they can’t be all bad if they’re coming up with stipulations such as a volcanic eruption period declaring that “one or more volcanic eruptions that occur within a 72-hour period will be considered as one volcanic eruption.”

Of course, there is some justification for the stingy stereotype. People have long mocked the lack of coverage for frequent “act of God” incidents such as flooding, for which I am not covered (though this doesn’t bother me, seeing as I live on a hilltop and on the second floor). There is an exclusion for any “earth movement” such as damages caused by earthquakes, landslides and, presumably, good sex. Curiously, the policy assures me that the exclusion “does not apply to loss by theft,” so I guess if a crevice opens up and swallows my building I can claim that God stole my stuff.

Perhaps the most curious exclusion is any act of war, including the insistence that “discharge of a nuclear weapon will be deemed a warlike act even if accidental.” This is further clarified to say that the company won’t eat any losses by radioactive contamination “except that direct loss by fire resulting from the nuclear hazard is covered.” So if New London is ever nuked, I guess I should hope that any damage done in my neighborhood is the result of a firestorm instead of irradiation or a blast wave.

With all the intricacies for what’s covered and not covered in the more implausible scenarios, I can’t help but imagine that insurance agents must have some of the most bizarre conversations after seeing movies involving widespread damage and destruction. When an alien dragon ship keels over onto a Manhattan block in The Avengers, is it considered an act of war or an aircraft/falling object? How about those asteroid and comet movies? Who knows what’s covered in a Cloverfield type of situation…

At the very least, if this hilltop turns out to be a caldera I know I’ll be all set.

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