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Roof damage is the most common type of hurricane insurance claim we see after a hurricane, wind storm or hail event.  Wind from hurricanes and tropical storms can cause substantial roof damage – whether just a few loose shingles or the total destruction of the entire roof structure.  Even worse, any opening in your roof can cause water to enter your home and devastate your belongings.  Hail can also cause severe damage and greatly reduce the functional life of your roof.

After a roof damage loss, it is crucial to get your roof repaired or replaced as soon as possible.  The longer you wait, the more time there is for additional damage to be caused by water loss.  On the other hand, if full repairs are not completed and only a quick patch job is performed, you may be asking for an even greater problem down the road.

The question whether to repair or replace a damaged roof is hotly debated by insurance companies and their policy holders.  During this epic struggle, you will most likely hear terms and phrases such as the “25% Rule”, the brittle shingle test, asphalt granular shingle loss and shingle bruising.  In order to help better understand your insurance claim, we’ve provided a quick summary of these terms below.

The 25% Roof Replacement Rule of the Florida Building Code

The most commonly referenced roof damage term is the 25% Rule.  The 25% Rule arises out of Section 708.1.1 of the Florida Building Code.  The pertinent portion of this Code Section states as follows:

Not more than 25 percent of the total roof area or roof section of any existing building or structure shall be repaired, replaced or recovered in any 12 month period unless the entire roofing system or roof section conforms to requirements of this code.

There are a couple of important points to keep in mind with this Code Section.  First, if a more than 25% of your roof is damaged – either from a fallen tree, high winds, or otherwise – then the entire roof must be replaced.  If less than 25% of any portion of your roof is damaged, then (at least pursuant to this Code Section) the roof can just be repaired or patched.  Secondly, the 25% can be measured by any given section of the roof.  If more than 25% of any given section of the roof is damaged, then that section must be replaced and not merely repaired.  Thirdly, there is a 12 month time frame over which this 25% is calculated.  For example, if the initial damage does not reach the 25% threshold for replacement, but then over the next 12 months, additional repairs are required that cause the damage to go beyond the 25% threshold, then the entire roof section must then be replaced.

The Brittle Shingle Test

The brittle shingle test is a super scientific testing method whereby an inquisitive person picks up a shingle, tries to fold or bend the shingle up to a 90 degree angle, and then checks to see if the shingle breaks or bends.  If the shingle breaks, then the shingle is brittle and the roof probably needs to be replaced.  If, on the other hand, the shingle is still pliable and bends, then the roof is not a candidate for replacement (or so the insurance representative would say).  This testing method is clearly subject to many variables (temperature of shingle being tested, etc.), but is often used by insurance companies as “proof” that the roof shingles are still functional.

Shingle Granular Loss

Asphalt granular shingle loss is generally calculated to occur at about a 3% rate per year.  Unfortunately, damage from wind or bruising by hail can accelerate this loss by anywhere from 15% to 40%.  Even if the damage doesn’t totally destroy the shingle or make an opening all the way to the matting, the artificially accelerated “aging” of your roof may be a covered loss under your insurance policy.  The theory is that prior to the storm you had a roof with (hypothetically) 15 years of remaining life, but now after the storm damage, you left with a roof with only 5 years of useful life left.

Shingle Bruising

Shingle bruising is usually caused by hail damage.  When hail strikes an asphalt shingle, it can cause a localized loss of granules, usually circular in shape, to the shingle and a fracture in the mat beneath the shingle.  The damage to the mat is usually referred to as a bruise and can be indicative of damage to the functional ability of the roof.  Bruising and hail damage to a roof can cause a diminution of the water shedding ability of the shingle and a reduction in the functional life of the roof.  Bruised shingles need to be replaced as such damaged shingles are no longer able to keep water and other elements from entering the structure.

Get Experienced Help for your Hurricane Insurance Claim

Please know that many of these determinations are very subjective and, unless you have a working knowledge of building construction and a mastery of the coverages available under your insurance policy, you may not be best equipped to handle your property damage claim by yourself, and may want to discuss your claim with an experienced property insurance claim attorney.  Should you have any questions whatsoever, please contact our office and we will help guide you through whatever issues you may have with your insurance damage claim.

 

After a hurricane, storm or other disaster, you hoped that your property insurance company would honor your claim and pay for your damages.  After all, you purchased homeowners insurance with the expectation that, if a catastrophic loss ever occurred, your insurance company would provide for the repair of your property back to its pre-loss condition.  Unfortunately, as many homeowners are now experiencing after Hurricane Irma, property insurance companies do not always live up to policyholders’ expectations.

During the initial inspection, the insurance company’s adjuster may have even indicated to you that your damages would be covered and that the insurance company would “take care of everything”.  Then, after not hearing from the adjuster for a few weeks, you received a check in the mail for not only substantially less than you hoped for, but nowhere near enough to repair all of your damages.  What happened?

Denying Claims Based On Pre-Existing Damage Defense Or Other Exclusions

The insurance company’s first weapon to underpay your claim is the denial of all or a large portion of your damages.  This denial could be a claim that your damage pre-existed the insurance policy period, that your damage was not the result of the subject weather event, that your damage is specifically excluded under the policy, or any other reason manufactured by the insurance company.

Limiting Scope of Repairs and Undervaluing Value of Damages

If the insurance company cannot find a way to deny your claim, they will then try to underpay or undervalue the cost of repairing your damage.  The insurance company will attempt to limit the scope of your repairs (the actual items to be repaired) and/or limit the actual cost allowed for such repairs.  Insurance companies have created quite a cottage industry for contractors, adjusters, and other “experts” who are retained specifically for the purpose of minimizing the valuation of your damage claim.

Aggressively Depreciating the Value of Your Property

The insurance company’s next weapon is the application of depreciation.  Pursuant to Florida law, the insurance company only has to pay the Actual Cash Value of your damages after a loss.  In short, Actual Cash Value (ACV) is the “garage sale value” of your items, and not the current cost to repair or replace same.  It is only after you totally repair or replace the damaged items that the insurance company has the obligation to pay the Replacement Cost Value (RCV) of your damaged items.  The insurance company takes the Replacement Cost Value of your damaged property, and then subtracts an estimated “depreciation” amount in order to get the Actual Cash Value which it pays to you.  As you can imagine, this process is replete with subjective calculations (who says what the current value of my two year old TV is?  How is my roof depreciated by 40% in four years?) and the subject of many disputes.

Applying High Hurricane Deductibles

Perhaps the biggest – or at least, the most apparent – slap in the face by the insurance company is the application of a deductible to your loss payment.  If your loss is not the result of a hurricane or named storm, the deductible may only be $1,000.00 or so, but if your damage is the result of a hurricane or named storm, then your deductible may be substantially higher.  We have written about the application of hurricane deductibles in a previous post, so we will ease the pain by not repeating that narrative here.  Needless to say, these deductibles can come as quite a shock – especially when the insurance company’s calculation of your damages somehow “magically” comes in at just below the amount of your deductible.

The presentation of an insurance claim for property damage from a hurricane or other type of loss can be a minefield.  Without the help of an experienced lawyer or other professional, you run the risk of having your property claim severely underpaid or even outright denied.  If you believe you are not being treated fairly by your insurance company, or if you just have questions regarding the process, please feel free to contact our office and we will do our best to assist you.

 

Now that Hurricane Irma has marched through the entire length of Florida, those affected by the storm must now face perhaps an even more stressful event – the pursuit of a property damage claim against their homeowners insurance company.  Although it may take several weeks for property owners to fully realize the damage caused to their property, they need to move quickly with a claim against their property insurance company.  
Since the focus has long been on preparing for Irma’s high winds and water, it is understandably difficult to now turn your focus to the language of your insurance policy and the numerous exclusions contained therein.  It is also eye-opening to realize that the insurance company’s representatives do not always fully investigate the scope of your damage and will often leave a lot of damage uncompensated.  
As important as your pre-storm preparation was, you must now focus on obtaining the most compensation possible from your insurance company to help put your property (and life!) back together again.  The steps you take immediately after the storm are crucial with regard to your ability to adequately present a claim with your insurance company for the damage to your property.  As you begin your insurance claim presentation process, you may want to keep the following in mind:
The Safety of Your Family.  This may seem obvious, buy it needs to remain your overriding priority after the storm.  Do not get caught up in documenting your damages or any other claim activity until later the safety of your family is assured.  
Document Your Damage:  In order to best receive reimbursement for your lost or damaged items, you will need to prove to the insurance company what property you had and the pre-storm condition of same.  Hopefully, you took pictures and video of the pre-storm condition of 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.
 
Contact Your Insurance Company.  As soon as communications allow, you should immediately place your insurance company on notice of your loss.  The most obvious reason for this is so that the sooner your place your claim, the sooner you can start the process.  If you wait to place your claim, you may be forced to wait behind others that placed their claims before you.  
A not so obvious reason to place your claim quickly is that many insurance policies now mandate that you provide them with “immediate” notice of a loss.  If you wait to place your claim and do not give the insurance company “immediate” notice of your loss, the insurance company may claim to have been “prejudiced” by your delayed reporting and deny your claim.  Insurance company lawyers have created quite a cottage industry for themselves by defending against the payment of your claim based upon an alleged “late notice” defense.  
Point Out All Damage to the Insurance Representative.  After the receipt of your claim, an insurance company representative will come and inspect the damage to your home.  It is crucially important that you point out any and all damage to your property so that the damage can be documented.  Don’t worry if you miss something, as your claim is not limited to only the damage you point out on this initial visit, but the more damage you can document to the insurance company, the higher the insurer’s initial settlement offer may be.
Remember, the insurance company representative  does not work for you, but instead works for the insurance company.  Even though the insurance adjuster may be friendly and professional, he 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.
 
Flood vs. Wind Damage.  Since Hurricane Irma caused damage both by high winds and rising water, your homeowners insurance company may try to deny coverage for some of your damage by claiming the damage was caused by water and not wind.  In general, your homeowners insurance policy covers damage caused by wind, and your flood insurance policy covers damage caused by rising water.  The dispute over whether damage is covered by flood or homeowners insurance has generated mountains of litigation and is discussed in detail in a previous post
Examine your Insurance Policy for Additional Coverages.  The insurance company representatives may not point out all the benefits provided by your homeowners insurance policy.  For instance, there may be additional insurance coverage for items such as any alternative living arrangements while repairs are being done, food that may have spoiled in your refrigerator, the cost of bringing your home up to current building codes, and other such non-obvious coverages.
Remember, 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.
 

When dealing with a hurricane or tropical storm, surviving the weather event is often only the beginning of the battle.  The insurance company’s constant nit-picking of your claimed losses can drive you bonkers – especially while you are trying to put the rest of your life back together.  Then, just when you think you may have worked out a reasonable resolution of your claim, the insurance representative says, “Oh, and by the way, we are going to apply a hurricane deductible to your loss amount.”

The Named Storm Deductible or Hurricane Deductible can take a huge bite out of your ultimate insurance claim recovery.  Although some policies may vary, most homeowner insurance policies in Florida provide for a 10% deductible for hurricane or named storm claims.  The real kicker though, is that this deductible is calculated as 10% of your POLICY amount, not of your claim amount.  For example, let’s say you have a $500,000 policy of homeowner’s insurance, and then have the misfortune of incurring a $75,000 hurricane damage loss.  After the application of the $50,000 deductible (10% of $500,000), the insurance company would only be obligated to pay you $25,000 for your loss.  Good thing everybody always keeps a spare $50k around for just this type of emergency – right?

Dealing with the application of a hurricane deductible is another reason why you should never try to handle a catastrophic insurance loss without professional assistance.  Whether you choose an insurance claim attorney or a public adjuster, either professional would handle the property insurance claim on a contingency fee basis and would only get paid if they bettered your recovery.  Should you have any sort of questions whatsoever about either your insurance policy or the claims process, please feel free to contact our office anytime.

Even as the internet is full of Hurricane Harvey damage pictures, another storm is quickly approaching Florida from the eastern Atlantic.  Tropical Storm Irma – soon to be Hurricane Irma – is projected to be a major storm and may make landfall along Florida’s coastline.  The time is now to stop looking at flood pictures in Texas and realize that we could be in the same situation – or worse – if a major storm hit our shores.

Please take a moment to review my previous post on the crucial steps you need to take in order to protect your family during the storm.  Also, you can click here to download a detailed Hurricane Supply Checklist.  Make sure you obtain all or as many of these items as possible, because you may have to fend for yourself and your family for an extended period after the storm.

If you don’t already have adequate property insurance coverage, then it is mostly likely too late for you.  Sorry, but it is not like we didn’t warn you.  If you do have a solid policy of homeowners insurance, then at least you know that you will be able to seek recovery from your insurance carrier for any property loss you may incur.

If you have any questions regarding your property insurance coverage or need help with your claim, please either contact us online or call our office at (888) 898-5297.

capture87As 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.

 

Hurricane WindsAs 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.

Every year the National Hurricane Center develops a list of names to apply to possible tropical storms or hurricanes during the coming storm season.  Believe it or not, there is an actual committee of the World Meteorological Organization which gets together and updates this list every year.  (It would seem that they could just create an “app” for that.)  Although storm names are subject to repeated use, a name will be dropped permanently if the name was used for a storm which was particularly deadly or caused extensive damage.

The official hurricane names for the 2014 storm season are as follows:

Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, and Wilfred.

One has to wonder about the thought process which went into picking these names.  Seriously – who wants to be talking about all the devastation from Hurricane Nana?  How many times is Isaias going to be misspelled?  Although they are somewhat limited by the fact that the names must (for whatever reason) be in alphabetical order, it would seem that, given the violent nature of these storms, the World Meteorological Organization could come up with more descriptive names.  Hurricane Titan, Tropical Storm Thrasher – now those names ring!

Well, at least we have next year’s hurricane season.  Not to spoil any surprises, but the official hurricane names for 2015 include Bill, Fred, Peter, and Sam – all names which are more associated with bowling buddies than deadly storms spewing out tornadoes.

 

tornado-damage-floridaOver the last few days, Central Florida has been pounded by torrential rain, tornadoes and high winds.  These damaging windstorms and tornados were especially violent in Manatee, Sarasota, Lee, Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.  These thunder storms caused flooding in Shore Acres, wind damage in Siesta Key, and claimed the lives of two people in Duette.  Now that the storms have past, we are left to deal with the damage done by this weather event.  Fortunately, most people have homeowners insurance to help pay for the damage to their property, but as we have often seen, going through the insurance claim process can be a world of heartache all its own.

After the storm or tornado has past and/or the flood waters have receded, you should immediately contact your insurance company and place them on notice of your claim.  The sooner you start the insurance claim process, the better chance all parties have of accurately calculating your damage and the cost to repair same. You should also take whatever ever steps you can to mitigate the damage caused to your property and otherwise take action to keep additional damage from occurring.  You should also, to the best of your ability, make a listing of the damaged property.  Although making a listing of your damaged property can be difficult – especially when the items are missing or totally destroyed – you are the best person to know the extent of your property.  If you can’t properly itemize your lost or damaged property, most likley the insurance company will not reimbuse you for same.

After a storm or other weather event, you may also have to deal with emergency restoration companies.  These companies will come to your house soon after the damage occurs and will do the immediate repairs or restoration that may be necessary to protect your home from further damage.  These services usually include the placement of large fans or other equipment to dry out your property, the installation of tarps over your damaged roof, or other similar activities.  Although these services can often be crucial for the protection of your property, always remember that these services are very expensive and that you only have a certain amount of money under your insurance policy limits with which to repair your home.  If large sums of your policy limits are spent on these initial emergency repairs, you run the risk of not having sufficient funds remaining to repair the remainder of your home.  Therefore, it is always important to obtain an agreed upon written estimate of the work prior to the performance of same.

Lastly, it is important to remember the difference between flood insurance and wind insurance.  Your normal policy of property insurance does not cover flood damage – meaning damage caused by “rising water”, but will only cover damage caused by water which was “blown into” your home by wind.  For instance, if your property was damaged by water that had been blown in through a window or a damaged roof, your normal homeowners policy would cover it.  If the damage was caused by water rising from a nearby creek, your homeowner’s policy would not cover the damage.  It is crucial that you understand the coverages available to you prior to authorizing any repair work to your home.  If you authorize a contractor to dry out your home after a flood and then realize that you do not have flood insurance – you will be on the hook to pay the contractor out of your own pocket!

As always, should you have any questions regarding what coverage may be available to you under your insurance policy, please feel free to contact our office and we will do our best to answer any questions you may have regarding your property damage claim.

 

Almost every time we speak to a new client regarding their hail damage insurance claim, our clients tell us that the insurance company representative told them some variation of one or more of the below statements.  Unfortunately, insurance company adjusters have a habit of trying to convince property owners that they have “no business” filing legitimate hail damage claims, and even try to convince the hapless homeowners to drop their claims.  We’ve put together the below list of insurance company representations and have pointed out the truth underlying these misstatements.

1.  “Since you don’t have much damage, you shouldn’t file a claim” – In reality, if you have any damage whatsoever from a covered cause of loss, you have the absolute right to place a claim with your insurance company for the repair of this damage.  Moreover, even if the damage to your roof may not seem severe at the moment, if left un-repaired, it may eventually lead to additional leaks and problems down the road – which could end up costing substantially more to repair.  Better to get the repairs taken care of immediately so that additional subsequent damage can be avoided.

2.  “If you file a claim, your insurance company will cancel your policy” – In fact, most states have laws which specifically prohibit insurance companies from cancelling a policy solely because of the insured’s placement of a claim.  Not only is the insurance company prohibited from taking this action, the insurance company might be exposing itself to a claim for bad faith claims handling as well.

3.  “Since it doesn’t look like you’ve lost any roof shingles, you must not have any hail damage.” –  This is one of the most common statements, and is really a total misdirection.  Missing shingles are usually related to wind damage claims (hurricanes, tropical storms, etc.), and are not an absolute indicator of hail related damage.  A roof may be substantially damaged by hail, even though the actual shingles appear to still be in place after the storm.   Furthermore, the damage may not cause leaking until well after the storm.  Therefore, it is crucial to have a qualified expert examine your roof after a storm to fully evaluate the damage to your property.

4.  “If you file a claim, your insurance rates will go up.”  Let’s be honest, if a storm or other large weather event comes through your area, the insurance company is going to raise everyone’s rates anyway.  So if your insurance premiums go up and you are the only person on your block who didn’t file a claim, your increased premium dollars will just be used for paying everyone else’s claims and not yours.

5.  “You should place a claim with your manufacturer’s warranty/home builder/building contractor for this damage.”  – The reality is that most manufacturer’s warranties specifically exclude damage caused to your roofing shingles by hail.  Furthermore, home builders and contractors will only be liable for faulty workmanship or failure of the products and services they provided as part of the scope of their employment.  Absent some specific (and hard to imagine) language in a home builder’s contract that states that the builder agrees to be liable for acts of nature which occur after the home is built, there would be no cause of action against the building contractor for hail damage.

6.  “Since you didn’t notify us immediately after the hail incident, you cannot make a claim.” – Although there may be various limitations under law or in your policy which govern the time frame within which you must place your claim, such limitations usually allow ample time to make your claim and do not mandate that your claim is automatically barred if you didn’t notify the insurance company the day after the event.  Although it is important to consult with a legal professional as to what limitations may exist in your policy or under the laws of your state, the process recognizes that it may take a while to fully become aware of the damage and to notify your insurance company of same.

Always keep in mind that the individual the insurance company sends to initially inspect your damage is either an employee of the insurance company or an outside adjuster who relies upon the insurance company for his standard of living.  Although usually these representatives do their best to honor the insurance company’s obligations to you, do yourself a favor and never forget who butters this person’s bread.  If you have any doubts about whether you are getting a fair shake from your insurance company, please feel free to call our office.