Do/Can Hawaiians buy volcano insurance?

As we speak, Kilauea is destroying neighborhoods with a flood of molten rock. For homeowners seeking to mitigate risk, volcanoes present a hazard that’s rather different from simple fire or flood. In the latter calamities, your home may be utterly destroyed, but the value of your land doesn’t substantially change: the street is still there, along with water/sewage services, and with an insurance payout, you can go about rebuilding the house.

But when a volcano buries your entire neighborhood in 10-20 feet of solid rock, the situation changes a bit. The streets are utterly gone, along with whatever municipal services they may have brought to your doorstep. The topography of your land has changed dramatically, and now it’s not easily excavated for a foundation and doesn’t have any topsoil to sustain any sort of ecosystem. In short, the value of your land has plummeted to a fraction of what you paid for it.

Do insurance companies offer any kind of coverage for such things? Do people in Hawaii commonly buy such insurance?

**From CNN **

The initial cost of property in those areas would be much reduced by the risk. I know someone who owned a house on the edge of a cliff in Southern England. The price he paid back in 2002 would not have bought him a dog kennel in a nearby village - early this year, he was ordered to vacate the property and a few weeks later it fell off the edge. When I asked about insurance, he just laughed.

It’s not like volcanoes pop up overnight. The people who chose to live there should have understood the risks. And while an eruption impacting your house during your lifetime may be low, I think this falls under “you knew what you were getting into”. But I’m curious about municipal services. If you decided that after your house was destroyed you wanted to rebuild would the municipality be obligated to provide you with services, or would they just say “sorry dude, you’re on your own now”.

I doubt anyone anywhere could get a policy covering an act of God. Or, in the case of Hawaiian volcanoes, an act of Goddess (see Pele)

As for the rebuilding issue - it depends on damage and assessed risk. I’m having trouble googling it right now because all the results come up with the current eruption, but there’s at least one Hawaiian neighborhood subjected to a lava flow that was largely buried and never rebuilt. A few people still live there, basically like squatters, with no municipal services - water, power, etc. - at all. Hawaii has no interest in rebuilding that plot of land. So some places do wind up abandoned.

I think the answer might be
“We will connect you if you pay the restoration costs of the services”


Does anyone privately own the volcano area and, if so, do they have any liability for their land spewing lava on everyone?


AFAIK flooding is an act of God, and you can certainly buy flood insurance. I would also expect my homeowner’s insurance to pay if my home gets flattened by a tornado, or if my roof gets shredded by hail.

I don’t think a property owner is liable for acts of God that originate on his/her property. There was this famous case from a couple of decades ago, in which the Michigan DEQ demanded, with threats of hefty fines, that a property owner remove an unauthorized/unpermitted “debris dam” on his property that was causing flooding on his neighbor’s property; the DEQ relented when it was learned that the dams had been built and maintained by beavers with no human intervention at all.

In the case of a volcanic eruption originating on private property, I can’t see how a court could hold the owner liable for an event that’s entirely beyond his control.

I’m not looking up state laws and municipal codes on utility connections but I will say that I’ve never heard of a place where the city would be obligated to rebuild the infrastructure no matter what happened to it. It’s much more likely that the city has the power to condemn the places that don’t have power/water/etc. because they are now unlivable.

Those areas might get rebuilt someday if it makes sense. The city might agree to restore services if the residents will pay reconnection fees to cover the cost of rebuilding the infrastructure. Alternatively, a developer could buy the condemned properties on the cheap and put in the infrastructure necessary to get them permitted for occupation again or the developer could build something entirely new.

Again, I’m not doing the research on Hawaii liability laws but my guess is that being a volcano owner doesn’t make a person responsible for damages the volcano causes to other people when it explodes. You generally have to have violated some duty owed to those other people or have been negligent in some way to be liable for damages. I’m not sure how you could prove the volcano owner violated any duty or was negligent in a case like this. The volcano would have exploded no matter who owned it, so just owning the volcano doesn’t make the owner negligent. I assume the person who owned it didn’t do anything to cause the volcano to explode. :wink:

Perhaps, and I think even this is a stretch, you might be able to assert that the volcano’s owner had a duty to warn neighbors of the exploding volcano. I’ve never heard of such a duty. If such a duty exists in Hawaii, perhaps the volcano owner could have warned neighbors of the exploding volcano sooner. To assert such a claim, the neighbors would likely have to establish facts like that the owner of the volcano saw signs it was going to explode, that reasonable interpretation of those signs was that the volcano was going to explode, that the affected neighbors themselves didn’t also see those signs or otherwise have warning that the volcano was going to explode, that advance warning would have allowed the neighbors to reduce their losses, and that the owner negligently failed to tell neighbors of the warning signs.

People who live on a flood plain will find it difficult/expensive/impossible to insure against flood damage.

Last year there were a lot of floods in England which sometimes affected places that had not been flooded in living memory. We saw on TV how many people whose homes were devastated had no insurance at all and were left homeless but unable to sell.

A house I drive past regularly was flooded, but now has a concrete wall around it, some three feet high. In the nearby town, some of the shops on the riverside have covered the ground floor areas with swimming pool grade tiles. They just move the stock etc upstairs when they get the warning and mop out after.

Floods are a lot less devastating than lava and earthquakes.

There are some areas where flood risk is so high you can not get flood insurance. The government had to take over the flood insurance business some time ago because no private company would take on the risk. I doubt very much any private insurance company is going to take on the risk for volcano damage on the slopes of an active volcano. You could probably insure some of your household goods, but not the home or the land, or so I assume - if someone from Hawaii states differently take their word over mine.

As for tornadoes and hail - those tend to be spotty. You can live a lifetime in Tornado Alley and never be hit by one, even if your next door neighbor’s house takes a trip to Oz. On top of that, neither hail or tornadoes leave the land itself useless, unlike a foot thick (or more) coating of lava. Tornadoes and hail are more like fire damage, you still have your property and can rebuild. Lava is something else.

Despite the many advantages of owning an active volcano, they are usually outweighed by the headaches associated with identifying and employing willing sacrificial virgins to keep the periodic eruptions under control. Even the most diligent owners are sometimes duped by suicidal nonvirgins, resulting in suboptimal magmatic effluence episodes. Given privacy laws, there is no good case laws defining due diligence in these scenarios, and it is unclear if the tort is thus feased by the owner or the (now deceased) “virgin”. As a result of the legal complexities, local judiciaries defer to the “act of God(dess)” defenses, leaving property owners without recourse.

I don’t dispute that the hazard of tornadoes/hail/floods is quite distinct from that of volcanoes. You made a broad claim about the probable inability of anyone anywhere being able to obtain insurance against acts of God, and that’s what I was disputing. Yes, there are some places where you can’t get flood insurance, but there are other places/circumstances that require it, and I’m pretty sure my own insurance will pay out if my house is damaged by tornadoes or hail. IOW, yes, it’s not uncommon for homeowners to obtain insurance against acts of God, even if volcanoes aren’t on that list.

You’d think that this sort of thing would have come up before. There are real risks from volcanos in several parts of the world – Italy, Iceland, Indonesia. Surely the possibility of insuring againmst such calamities has been considered before.

Have a look at this article from 2010:

The Insurance Information Institute offers these interesting guidelines:
Some of that seems to contradict what’s said elsewhere. If lava damage to your car actually is covered by comprehensive insurance, it looks as if you want comprehensive.

Boy, I hope this guy had Comprehensive Auto Insurance:
I’m picturing J.K. Simmons as Professor Nathaniel Burke at the Farmers Insurance Museum, standing in front of a car half-encased in congealed lava.

“Lava Flow: May 2018. We didn’t cover it, because he didn’t get Comprehensive Insurance.”

You may be thinking of Kalapana, which was buried in Kilauea lava flows from 1990 - 91.

Some folks have built small houses on the lava that buried the previous ones, and live off the grid, on rainwater and solar energy.

I own a home in Hawaii (many miles north of Kilauea).

There is no “lava” insurance, but many people have standard home (fire) insurance. So if the lava comes near your house and starts a fire that eventually burns your home, then you can make an insurance claim to your insurer. This claim will be valid even if the lava covers your house after the fire. In other words, you better have the whole event on video or your insurer is going to dispute your claim.

“The eruption began on February 20, 1943, at about 4:00 PM local time. …within 24 hours, there was a scorian cone fifty meters high…” :eek:

Actually, I was thinking of Royal Gardens but I think I read recently the last house there burned a couple years ago and maybe no one has gone back there as of yet.

Certainly, there are some folks willing to live on the lava field - but I doubt anyone in that link has any sort of home owner’s insurance given how, shall we say, unfettered by housing codes and such that little neighborhood is at present.