IS DAMAGE CAUSED BY A METEORITE COVERED BY IINSURANCE? (by Tarran Dookie)
On February 15th, 2013 a meteor exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in the Ural mountains (population: 1 million). Six other cities beside Chelyabinsk were affected. It caused injuries to some 1500 persons, mostly from shattered glass. According to the Russian Academy of Sciences, the massive meteor weighed 10 tons and entered the earth’s atmosphere at a speed as high as 33,000 mph [52,800 km/h]. Authorities in Chelyabinsk said the blast had been heard at an altitude of 10,000 metres (32,800ft), suggesting it occurred when the meteor or meteors entered the earth’s atmosphere. The meteor was the largest such object reported since 1908, when a meteor hit Tunguska, Siberia and is thought to have devastated an area of more than 2,000 sq km (1,250 miles) in Siberia, breaking windows as far as 200 km (125 miles) from the point of impact.
The damage was caused by shockwaves as the meteor broke up in the earth’s atmosphere. In the main brittle articles such as dishes, televisions, and windows were shattered by the explosion, which also buckled shop fronts, set off car alarms and affected mobile phone signals. More than 3,000 homes and business sustained damage from broken glass, encompassing an area of 200,000 square meters. The Russian government estimated the damage to be in the order of one million roubles [app. $US 32.2 million].
An asteroid is a small rock in orbit around a star – a bit like a tiny planet. Small pieces of space debris such as parts of asteroids or parts of comets (objects consisting of a central mass surrounded by dust and gas that may form a tail, orbiting a star) on a collision course with earth are called meteoroids. When meteoroids enter the earth’s atmosphere they are called meteors. Most meteors burn up in the atmosphere, but if they survive and strike the surface of the earth they are called meteorites.
Most policies exclude any loss or damage directly occasioned by pressure waves caused by aircraft and other aerial devices travelling at sonic or supersonic speeds. Since a meteorite is not an aircraft or aerial device the exclusion will not apply, even though a pressure wave seemed to have caused the damage on February 15, 2013.
In as much as a substantial amount of the damage by the meteorite in Russia was to windows in houses, we may want to know what cover, if any, is given on a household policy. A typical household policy is issued on a named perils basis, that is to say, the perils that are covered are listed. For cover to apply what caused the damage must be a named peril on the policy. Furthermore, there are exclusions on the policy and what caused the damage must not be excluded. One of the perils on a household policy is loss or damage caused by ‘Aircraft and other aerial devices and/or articles dropped therefrom’. It is clear from what we have discussed that a meteorite is not an aircraft or an aerial device, nor is it an article dropped from an aircraft or aerial device. There is therefore no cover under this peril.
Under the typical household policy there is a standard extension known as ‘Accidental damage to fixed glass and sanitary fixtures’. The major damage in the February 15, 2013 incident was damage to windows and shop fronts. This extension would give the cover since this was accidental damage. The extension does have a monetary limit, usually between $1,500 and $2,500 per period of insurance. There is also an ‘Accidental damage to mirrors and plate glass tops to furniture’ extension. This also has a limit, usually $1,500 per period of insurance.
Most household policies have an all risks section that would cover items such as jewellery,cameras, computers including laptops, notebooks and net books, electronic equipment,camcorders and the like. If such items are damaged by a meteorite cover would apply since the cover is against all risks rather than against named perils. However, the all risks section does exclude ‘breakage or scratching of glass or other substances of a brittle or fragile nature (other than camera lenses) not due to fire or thieves’.
A commercial fire and special perils policy would have the same issues as the household policy as this is also is a named perils policy. There would be no cover for loss or damage caused by a meteorite under the basic policy. However, under the accidental damage to glass extension there would be cover up to the policy limit (normally ranges from $5,000 to $20,000).
Property all risks policies and almost any type of all risks policy would give the cover from damage by a meteorite since there is no applicable exclusion.
The standard motor policy, not being an all risks policy, would not cover damage to windscreens or any damage to a motor vehicle caused by a meteorite.
In respect of bodily injury or death caused by a meteorite both personal accident and life insurance policies would respond as there is no exclusion relating to injury or death by a meteorite.
Mention should be made that if an aircraft or aerial device or articles falling therefrom (e.g.Skylab, a space station, whose debris landed southeast of Perth, Western Australia in 1979) should cause damage this is covered under all risks policy as well as household policies under the impact by aircraft or aerial device peril. If such an occurrence is deemed accidental collision this should also be covered under a motor policy. Damage due to sonic bangs or pressure waves caused by aircraft and other aerial devices travelling at sonic or supersonic speeds would be excluded.