Weather Related Damage

At this time of year when storms are prevalent, especially in the southeast, often times it seems as if lightning damage occurs automatically.  The loss of an air conditioning system, computer server or telephone service can be attributed to lighting or a power surge.  In point of fact, the damage may or may not be weather related.  In order to determine if the damage is weather related, one of the tools used by both forensic consultants and claims adjusters is a lightning strike report.  These reports are sold by companies that specialize in reporting weather related data.  Home and business owners should take note of the fact that if they feel that their claim is lightning related, it would behoove them to obtain a lightning strike report before reporting their claim.  That way when the adjuster or expert arrives to assess the damage, the owner’s report can be reviewed and used as evidence to corroborate the owner’s claim.  Currently, the attitude is if lightning strikes within five miles of the damage location, then the damage can be attributed to the lightning strike.  However, this is not a hard and fast rule.  Once lightning hits the ground, it can go anywhere.  Tracing the path is often difficult if not impossible.  As a result, if the claim cannot be disproven, the benefit of the doubt has to be given to the insured. The same arguments can be made when roof damage occurs and hail is the suspected cause.  Home and business owners can also get reports on wind velocities, rain fall and temperature changes.  The reports can be very useful in times when tornados, flooding and freezing occur.  It should also be noted that these reports can be used to disprove an insureds claim.   

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Lightning Hits Car

It’s not unheard of  for lightning to strike a stationary object.  But a moving vehicle?  What are the odds of that happening?  We were recently involved in the investigation of just such a case.  Lightning apparently struck a 2002 Mercury Sable during a rain storm on a major highway.  While examining the vehicle, it  was noted that the end of  the antenna  had been partially melted.  In course of the strike, the  driver was unhurt, but all of the electronic devices had been damaged to the  extent that the entire vehicle was a total loss.  How does that happen?  All vehicles are connected to the negative battery terminal by way of a cable attached to the body/chassis of the  vehicle.  The lightning bolt would simply travel along any metallic surface and branch into all devices by way of their connection to the chassis.  After having traveled through the vehicle, lightning then traveled out of the vehicle and into the ground.  A review of lightning in the area confirmed its presence and the possibility that the vehicle had been hit.  The pictures below show the damage to the antenna and  the pavement.

Damage to antenna caused by lightning

Holes in pavement caused by lightning strike

Lightning Damage

There are times when during thunderstorms a number of lightning flashes will occur. Sometimes those flashes turn out to be cloud to ground strikes. When that happens, it is possible for electrical transformers and wiring to be damaged. It is also possible for tall objects such as buildings, antennas and poles to be hit. It is not unheard of for lightning to damage telephones, computers, televisions and just about anything electrical. However, when damage occurs and a claim is submitted to an insurance company, the insurer will want to know, if in fact, lightning caused the damage. In order to determine if lightning was to blame, it just makes sense to see if lightning was in the area when the damage occurred. There is a lightning detection network from which data can be obtained for specific dates and time periods. Typically, a radius of five miles from the location in question is searched. The reports that are generated usually indicate the time and location in terms of coordinates, intensity in terms of amps and the distance from the target location. If a report returns no recorded strikes, then, the conclusion is obvious – the damage wasn’t caused by lightning. However, conclusion becomes more complicated when a lone strike occurs say, three miles away from the target location. The question then becomes “if lightning caused the damage, then what path did it take?” In this scenario, there are only two ways for lightning to travel: through the power grid and the ground. Contacting the local electric company will usually reveal whether lightning was a problem and whether it affected the area where the target is located. On the other hand, if lightning hits the ground, the geological makeup will offer resistance to the flow of current. The amount of resistance is dependant on whether the minerals in the ground are conductors of electricity or insulators. The further away a strike occurs from the  target,  the less the likelihood that the strike actually caused the damage claimed.

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