Most people believe that when they buy homeowner’s or commercial property insurance that they will be covered for any damage that may occur to their property. Unfortunately, as many people have painfully learned during recent flooding events, the normal policy of homeowner’s property insurance does NOT provide coverage for damage caused by “rising water” or flood. This realization often comes too late for property owners and only after catastrophic damage has occurred to their property due to a flooding event.
The usual policy of homeowner’s insurance will only cover storm related water damage if it is caused by “wind blown” water, as opposed to “rising” water. A good example of “wind blown” water would be water that comes through a broken window or a roof opening caused by the storm. On the other hand, damage caused by the buildup of rain water which eventually enters the structure and causes flooding-type damage would not be covered under the standard policy of homeowner’s insurance.
As can be easily imagined, disputes often arise between property owners and their insurance companies over whether damage was caused by “rising” water as opposed to “wind blown” water. The property insurance company, obviously, would like to prove that the damage is from a flood event – and thereby not covered under its insurance policy – whereas the property owner would advocate that the damage was the result of water entering through an opening in the structure and thereby covered under the policy.
The best and safest course of action is for all property owners to obtain both property insurance and flood insurance – regardless of whether or not their structure is located in a flood zone. If you ever find yourself in a dispute with your property insurance company as to whether your damage is covered under your insurance policy, it is best to seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in property insurance claim matters.
Developers and construction firms often elect to use heavy equipment, blasting or pile driving in the performance of their construction projects. If your property is in close proximity to a construction project where heavy equipment, pile driving or blasting is being used, your property may incur damage related to the vibration caused by these activities.
If you believe your property has sustained damage due to vibration-related sources, you can assess whether your damage was the result of vibration by using any of the following methods:
Pre-Construction Condition Surveys – Prior to beginning the construction project, the contractor most likely prepared a pre-construction condition survey of the properties adjacent to the construction project in order to document any existing damage to the properties. This document may include photos and/or video of the properties, along with notations of any existing damage. This document or report is usually available from the building contractor or developer.
Seismograph Reports – A seismograph can be used to monitor the vibrations being caused by the construction activities and to document the intensity of the vibration. An analysis of this data would help determine whether the vibration intensities reached a level that could have caused damage to your property.
Historical Data – In some instances, there may be historical data as to the intensity of vibration caused by the use of certain equipment. If such information is available, it may not be necessary to use a seismograph to assess the intensity of the vibration caused by specific construction activities. This historical data may then be further analyzed in relation to the distance between your property and the equipment being used.
Property Inspection – The inspection of your property is the easiest and most obvious manner by which to assess whether your property has incurred damage from construction-related vibration. Most importantly, you must determine whether the current visible damage pre-existed the use of the vibration-causing equipment by the construction company. Clearly, if the damage to your property existed prior to the beginning of the vibration causing activities, the damage is not the result of such activities.
If you believe your property has been damaged by the use of heavy equipment, pile driving, blasting, or any other vibration inducing activities, you should contact an attorney with experience handling vibration damage claims. Our firm has handled vibration damage claims on behalf of both residential and commercial property owners.
As can be easily witnessed as you drive around town, construction companies often use blasting, pile driving, dewatering and heavy equipment in the performance of large construction projects. Many times, damage can be caused to buildings on nearby properties due to the enormous amount of vibration generated by these activities. The question then becomes whether the cost to repair the damage caused by this vibration is covered under the property owner’s property insurance policy.
For many years, insurance companies sought to exclude coverage for such damage through the use of the “Earth Movement” exclusion found in most policies of insurance. Although the exact wording of the definition may change from policy to policy, the usual earth movement exclusion language is similar to the following:
- We do not insure for loss caused directly or indirectly by any of the following. Such loss is excluded regardless of any other cause or event contributing concurrently or in any sequence to the loss.
- Earth Movement, meaning earthquake, including land shock waves or tremors before, during or after a volcanic eruption; landslide, mine subsidence; mudflow; earth sinking, rising or shifting; unless direct loss by:
(1) Fire; or
The question as to whether coverage should be afforded to this type of damage was heavily litigated for many years, until the Supreme Court of Florida finally clarified this issue in the case of Fayad vs. Clarendon National Insurance Company, 889 So.2d 1082 (2005). After an in depth analysis of the issues, the answer finally given by the Florida Supreme Court was – “Maybe”.
In the Fayad case, the insured’s property had incurred a substantial amount of damage due to blasting activities taking place near their home. When the insureds presented a claim for this damage, their insurance company denied their claim based upon the insurance policy’s Earth Movement exclusion.
Ultimately, the Florida Supreme Court found that the subject insurance policy DID provide coverage for this type of loss and that the insurance company was responsible for the payment of the insured’s damages. The Court based its decision on the specific language of the subject insurance policy and the fact that the policy seemed to only exclude earth movement or vibration caused by a “natural event” as opposed to a manmade event. Specifically, the Court concluded:
We interpret Clarendon’s earth movement exclusion to exclude damage caused by earth movement arising from natural events from coverage rather than damage cause by earth movement arising from any cause, including man-made events such as blasting.
If the Supreme Court found that the policy covered this type of loss, why did I say that the Court’s ultimate answer was “Maybe”? The reality is that insurance companies tend to learn from their mistakes and many insurance companies have since re-written their policies to clarify their intention to eliminate Earth Movement caused by any event – including manmade events such as blasting. Therefore, if you believe you have damage to your property that may be the result of blasting, pile driving or other vibration activities, please contact our office so that we may review your situation and provide a free consultation as to your rights.
As Tropical Storm Erika was quickly approaching landfall a few weeks ago, Floridians were correctly focused on preparing for the high winds and water that could have caused an unknown amount of damage. As important as pre-storm preparation is, the steps you take immediately after the storm are also crucial with regard to your ability to adequately present a claim with your insurance company for the damage to your property.
Your first priority after the storm needs to be the safety of your family. After the safety of your family is assured, you need to thoroughly document the damage to your property. With the advent of cell phone cameras and other video devices, it is easier than ever to memorialize the damage caused by the storm and to easily provide same to your insurance carrier. Hopefully, you also have pictures and other documentation from before the storm so that you can demonstrate to the insurance company the nature of your property and the condition of same prior to the damage.
As soon as communications allow, you should also immediately place your insurance company on notice of your loss. Many insurance policies are now written to specifically mandate “immediate” notice of a loss, and insurance companies will often spend lots of money defending against the payment of your claim based upon an alleged “late notice” defense. After notification of your claim, the insurance company will send an adjuster to your property to inspect the damage. It is crucially important that you point out any and all damage to your property so that the damage can be documented.
Remember, even though the adjuster may be friendly and professional, he or she is not an advocate for the full payment of your loss. The adjuster is employed solely by the insurance company and, whether consciously or unconsciously, his goal will be to provide the least amount of coverage for your damage. If you are not satisfied with the treatment, coverage or payment provided to you by your insurance company, it is advisable to contact an attorney or other professional who has experience with handling property insurance claims. Most of these professionals work on a contingency fee basis and offer a free initial consultation, so there are no out of pocket costs to obtain help with your storm damage insurance claim.
As we watch Hurricane Danny approach the Gulf, it is hard to believe that 10 years have passed since Hurricane Charlie and three other storms caused massive damage and property insurance claims throughout Central Florida. Although the passage of time makes it easy to think that such storm damage is unlikely to happen again, we are not immune from further visits from Mother Nature.
It is important to prepare for the eventuality of a hurricane strike now, instead of waiting until the winds begin to blow before getting your family and property ready for the storm. First, make sure to map our your evacuation route so that if you are ordered to leave (or just want to), you already know where to go and how to get there. Whether or not you plan to evaluate, it is crucial that you stock up on water, non-perishable foods, and power sources (batteries). It is also important to have a reliable radio so that you can stay informed as to the storm’s progress and any evacuation instructions. Don’t forget about your pet either, as many shelters do not allow animals and leaving Fido in the back yard is not a very good option.
Hopefully, long before the arrival of a hurricane or storm, you reviewed your policy of property insurance to verify the coverages that exist for damage caused by high winds and water. Be aware that certain rules, exclusions and deductibles apply for damage caused by a hurricane or storm, so if you have any questions, it is advisable to seek the advice of a professional with experience handling such issues.
Although it doesn’t get the same attention as Florida’s other natural disasters, lightning damage led to more than 10,000 insurance claims in Florida over the past year. Florida ranks first in the nation for both injuries caused by lightning strikes and insurance claims caused by lightning related damage. The estimated total property damage caused by lightning over the past year in Florida was nearly 74 million dollars.
Although it is impossible to predict when and where lightning will strike, it is possible to reduce the risk of lightning damage. By installing a lightning protection system, you can essentially “ground” your property and thereby allow the damaging lightning to dissipate into the ground. Although such systems are not perfectly reliable, they do lessen the risk of damage to your property by keeping the electricity away from the building materials which can’t handle the full force of the lightning. Many experts also recommend the installation of lightning rods and the use of surge protectors on any electronics.
Even with such precautions, it only takes one direct lightning strike for your entire structure to go up in flames. As always, it is important to verify that you have the appropriate property insurance coverage to protect you in case Mother Nature decides to pay your house a visit. Should you have questions regarding what coverage may be available under your property insurance policy, contact an experienced insurance claims attorney and discuss what options are available to you under your insurance policy.
Normally, April 1st is known for being the one day when you can pull pranks on friends and co-workers and still escape the beating that would normally follow on any other day. By merely yelling, “April Fools!”, you can escape judgment for all sorts of sins and misdeeds – all in the name of “good fun”.
Unfortunately, this April Fools Day will hold special meaning to property insurance policy holders in Florida because, as of April 1, 2015, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 goes into effect. As history has shown, anytime the Federal government passes a law with the word “Affordability” in the title, you know you are going to have to reach for your pocketbook. The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act was passed last year to kick the can down the road with regard to sky rocketing flood insurance premiums under the Biggert-Waters Act, but it looks like “down the road” is now staring Floridians in the face. Although the new premium increases won’t be as draconian as the $30,000 residential flood insurance premiums homeowners were facing under the Biggert-Waters Act, Floridians can still expect to see increases of approximately 18% annually until the premium charged for flood insurance coverage is “actuarially sound” (i.e., never).
But not to worry! A local congressman just introduced a bill entitled the Flood Insurance Premium Parity Act of 2015. Based on this lofty sounding title, the bill is sure to solve any and all problems and make flood insurance affordable for all in perpetuity. See – nothing to worry about.
The severe weather that recently swept through the area left many property owners with damage to their roofs from the storms and high winds. When massive storm damage appears, the environment is ripe for an illegal activity that often plagues Florida – roofing scams.
The usual manner by which these roofing scams play out is that an alleged “roofer” contacts a property owner and claims that the roofer can act as an insurance adjuster to help the property owner with the insurance claim. The crooked roofer will promise the world to the property owner in order to get the property owner to hire the roofer to “handle” the claim, and may also request that the property owner assign to the roofer all rights to any of the proceeds of the insurance claim. The roofer will then perform substandard repairs to the property and submit an inflated bill for these services to the insurance company. The roofer will often times, as an “additional service” to the property owner, attempt to trick the insurance company into paying for other (non-roof) portions of the property by hiding/misnaming such costs in his bill for roofing repairs. Many of these crooked roofers are fly-by-night operators that merely swing into town after a storm event and then, once the work dries up, move on to the next town – with no intention of standing behind their roofing repairs or providing any sort of warranty.
This activity is not only unethical, but illegal as well. Before you hire a roofing contractor, make sure you research the contractor’s track record with the Better Business Bureau and make sure the contractor provides accurate contact information in case there is an issue with their work. Lastly, if you ever have a dispute with your insurance company, it doesn’t make sense to hire a roofing company to advocate your claim – hire either a licensed public adjuster or an attorney with experience handling insurance claim disputes.
The University of Florida Gators were scheduled to play football against the University of Idaho Vandals on August 30, 2014 in what was to be the Gators season home opener in Gainesville, Florida. The football game was initially scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m., but due to heavy rains and lightning, the start of the game was repeatedly delayed and ultimately began around 10:00 p.m. After the first play of the game – Idaho kicking off to the Gators – additional lightning appeared and forced the eventual cancellation of the game. Although the two teams could have potentially rescheduled this game for a bye-week later in the season, officials from both schools ultimately decided against it.
So – all of that is nice, but what does it have to do with insurance you say? Well, due to the financial acumen of UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley, the Florida Gators have always maintained an insurance policy to cover any loss in ticket revenue should a game be cancelled. Prior to each home game, the University provides its insurer, Lloyd’s of London, with an estimate of both prospective ticket sales and any potential losses. If a game is cancelled or if the University otherwise incurs a total loss of ticket revenue for a game, the insurance carrier pays the University for this loss.
Since the football game between Florida and Idaho was cancelled, the University refunded the purchase price to all ticket holders and placed a claim against Lloyd’s of London for the revenue the University stood to make on these ticket sales. End result? Although the score of the actual football game ended at 0-0, the University of Florida still walked away with a cool $1,800,000.00.
Over the past few months, many Citizens Property Insurance policy holders received a notification that, unless they opted out within a certain time frame, their property insurance would be automatically transferred out of Citizens and into one of several small start-up insurance companies. These newly formed property insurance carriers have been nick-named “take-out” companies because their sole source of new business is to take over property insurance policies that have been transferred out of Citizens. This process has created a love/love relationship between Citizens and these new insurance companies as, through the transfer of policies out of Citizens and into these new start-ups, Citizens can further its goal of depopulating its customer base and the new start-ups get “free” customers without having to market for same.
Of course, all is not rosy for the actual policy holder. As a recent report reflected, the recent crop of small, in-state property insurance companies have no record of withstanding the losses associated with a major hurricane and have not fared well with insurance industry rankings. In fact, these new companies only average a “C-minus” rating by Weiss Ratings and 11 of these companies have failed since 2006 – without even having a major storm or hurricane to drive up the claims! According to the new Weiss Ratings, 19 of the 48 Florida-based property insurance companies received a rating of “D-minus” or worse, which is eye-opening in light of the fact that Florida homeowners pay about $6 billion dollars a year to these companies and we haven’t had a large scale insurable event in over a decade.
The take away is that, although you may not be thrilled with the coverage or level of service that you may be getting from Citizens Property Insurance, you had better think twice about switching to one of the new take-out companies. Despite all of its problems, Citizens does not have the failure risk of the small private companies and Citizens will always have the money to pay claims – even though it may take years to do so!