Note: In the coming weeks, Aftermath will feature a three part series examining the topic of death scene cleanup as it relates to home ownership, insurance, and remediation. This first part tackles the important question asked by many homeowners facing a biohazard cleanup: will my insurance cover this? Read on to learn more on this difficult question.
Death In The Home
We’ve all heard the urban legend: a family moves into a new home. They are excited about their purchase until strange smells and stains start to appear in the living room. Eventually they trace the source of the problem back to a small closet. Time and time again, they try to clean up the problem, but the results yield little relief. As the smell gets worse, they finally hire a crew to come tear down the wall inside the space, thinking perhaps there is some sort of leak, or even a dead rodent trapped inside. What they find, however, is much more tragic – a human body.
Less dramatic and more realistic are situations that Aftermath sees every day: a landlord is left to manage a cleanup following the sudden death of a tenant, or a family copes with the loss of a relative who died alone, and whose body went undiscovered for several days afterward. Though less gruesome, at least in concept, these instances are no less traumatic to those involved than the one described above.
Why Involve a Professional?
It’s a sensitive topic, but part of dealing with death involves addressing the issue of cleanup. After the body is removed by authorities, families may be at a loss figuring out what to do next. Many do not know where to turn, and choose to handle cleaning on their own, believing that there is no other option available to them. Others look to funeral directors, the police, or their insurance adjuster for advice. However, just like consumers, not all of these service providers are aware of the existence of biohazard cleanup specialists.
There are numerous reasons to choose a professional company like Aftermath. First and foremost, hiring trained technicians helps relieve the emotional stress of a complicated cleanup. Secondly, it provides for the health and safety of the homeowner and their family, as well as ensuring that the property is fully cleaned and protected against additional damage stemming from the death.
Will Insurance Cover It?
Nevertheless, while professional death scene cleanup is clearly a necessity in many situations, the question of who pays the bill is another matter. For those with a homeowners insurance, it seems common sense that a cleanup would be covered, unless there are clear exclusions dictated in the policy. However, sadly, it is not always so cut and dry.
Any number of factors might lead to a cleanup claim being denied. According to Ken Kan of the Merlin Law Group, one common reason is on the basis of the “pollution exclusion.” The pollution exclusion is described by the International Risk Management Institute as: “a provision in either first-party or third-party insurance policies that excludes coverage for losses caused by “pollution,” a term usually defined to mean an irritant or contaminant, whether in solid, liquid, or gaseous form, including—when they can be regarded as an irritant or contaminant—smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acids, alkalis, chemicals, and waste.”
As applied to death scene cleanup, a provider may insist that odors and damage caused by decomposition of a human body constitute pollution. However, as Kan explains, this is not the case. While a body is considered a biohazard, it is not by definition a “pollutant.” The topic is addressed in further detail on Kan’s blog. You can view the video here. If a claim is denied, the homeowner is left responsible for both the remediation and renovation of any damaged property. Kan goes on to state that the family may need to take legal action in order to assure that they receive the full benefits of their policy.
The Answer Is Aftermath
To help better serve our customers and the insurance industry, Aftermath is dedicated to educating adjusters and other industry professionals on the importance and value of proper death scene cleanup. Our client service managers are trained to work with insurance providers and their customers. Though we cannot guarantee that your insurance company will accept your claim, we will strive to provide all the documentation and information you need to ensure that you receive the care and treatment you deserve.
If you are an insurance adjuster and have questions, or if you are looking for more information on our services to better assist your clients, call us anytime. We also encourage you to check out our “Carrier Advantage Program” which features many benefits, including preferred pricing and a dedicated phone line to expedite our already fast services. View our Insurance Adjusters page for more details.