Now that Hurricane Michael has caused devastation through Panama City, Mexico Beach, Tallahassee, and the Florida panhandle, property owners are now facing the damage left behind by the storm.  Although homeowners may be overwhelmed by having to now navigate a hurricane insurance claim, there are – at least – 9 things that property owners should NOT do after a hurricane property damage loss.

1.   Do NOT return to your home until it is safe to do so.  First responders are going to be busy searching for survivors and helping those with critical needs. Do not make their job more difficult by attempting to gain access to your property before you have been given authorization by your local officials to return to the area.

2.   Do NOT automatically throw away all possibly damaged items. Salvage the items and property that can be saved and take pictures of any items that are beyond repair. Although on first glance much of your property may look like it has been totally destroyed by either wind or water intrusion, you may be able to preserve a substantial amount of your property by securing it from further harm.

Not only will this allow you to save some of your valued property, but your insurance company will probably require that you do what you can to protect your property from further harm and to mitigate the damage from the storm.

3.   Do NOT wait to contact your insurance company. The sooner you contact your insurance company, the sooner they can send a representative to your property to assess and compensate you for your hurricane insurance claim. The longer you wait to place your claim, the longer you may have to wait for an insurance representative to come to your home (you will not be the only one placing a claim after the storm).

Also, your insurance policy most likely has a “prompt notice” requirement, which will mandate that you give your insurance company notice of your claim as soon as possible after the loss event.

4.   Do NOT let the insurance company representative fail to investigate the full extent of hurricane insurance claim. Many times insurance adjusters will only take a cursory review of your property or purposely fail to explore portions of your home that may be damaged.

The most common example is when the adjuster says that he does not need to go onto your roof to see if it is damaged. Make sure the adjuster evaluates all of the damage to your home and, if he does not, make sure to document what portions of your home were not evaluated by the adjuster.

5.   Do NOT “diagnose” your damages to the insurance adjuster. Many property owners feel the need to “diagnose” the cause of the damage to their home to the insurance representative. Property owners sometimes try to tell the insurance representative what they think could be the cause of damage – not knowing that many times the property owner’s diagnosis could lead to the damage not being covered!

For example, if a property owner incorrectly tells the adjuster that certain damage was from “flood” as opposed to “wind”, the adjuster may deny an otherwise valid wind claim based on the property owner’s (inaccurate) representation. As a property owner, your job is to point out the damage – let the insurance representative come to his own conclusions as to the cause of the loss.

6.   Do NOT stay in your home if it is not safe to do so. If your home is rendered uninhabitable after the storm, there is a portion of your policy which will reimburse you for any out of pocket expenses you incur while you are displaced from your home. This coverage is called Alternative Living Expense and should pay for any additional expenses that you incur (over and above expenses you would have normally incurred) while your home is being repaired.

7.   Do NOT feel that you have to accept the insurance company’s initial estimate as to the amount of your loss. After a hurricane damage loss, the insurance company’s goal is to “close” as many claims as they can in the shortest amount of time.  While in pursuit of this goal, insurance companies will often (if not always) undervalue the true cost to repair the damage – which leaves you with not enough money to fully repair and restore your property. You have the right to dispute the insurance company’s estimates and to fight for the full value of your loss.

8.   Do NOT try to handle a Hurricane Insurance Claim without professional assistance. The repair of your home after a catastrophic loss is just too important for you to try and make it a “learning experience”. There are just too many tricks and technicalities involved with the placement of a property insurance claim (Actual Cash Value vs. Replacement Cost Value? Post-loss Proof of Loss requirements? Water vs. Wind vs. Mold losses?) to attempt this process without help.

Additionally, since most property loss professionals work on a contingency fee basis, there are no up-front fees or costs and these professionals are only paid if they can obtain additional insurance funds on your behalf.  Since it costs you nothing to hire a property loss attorney or public adjuster, why would you not want get the benefit of a professional and let them take care of the headaches?

9.   Do NOT hire a property loss attorney or other professional based solely on television or billboard advertisements. Just because the law firm spends a lot of money on television or other advertisements, it does not mean they are qualified to handle your claim. Make your hiring decision based on a review of the law firm’s qualifications, experience, testimonials, and past successes in cases similar to yours.

As always, should you have any questions whatsoever with regard to the property insurance claim process, we would be happy to speak with you.  Usually with just a brief phone call, we can answer any questions you may have and provide whatever assistance you may need.

If You Have Questions Regarding Your Storm Damage Claim – Call (800) 451-6786 for Immediate Help.

After a loss, an insurance company will often mandate that the policyholder complete and sign a form called a Proof of Loss regarding the damages claimed by the policyholder. A Proof of Loss is a one page form (possibly with attachments) that is usually provided to the policyholder by the insurance company.

The Proof of Loss form requests specific information from the policyholder regarding the date and time the loss occurred, type of loss claimed, the available insurance policy limits, and the exact amount of damages sought by the policyholder. The Proof of Loss form may also mandate that the policyholder attach any damage estimates or other calculations that support the policyholder’s claims.

If you have any questions regarding the insurance claim process, please do not hesitate to call us at (800) 451-6786.

The policyholder must fill out this Proof of Loss form completely, sign it in front of a notary, and then timely provide the notarized Proof of Loss back to the insurance company. The insurance policy usually mandates that the policyholder has to provide the signed Proof of Loss within 60 days of the insurance company’s request.

Do I Have to Provide a  Proof of Loss?

The most important issue relating to a Proof of Loss is that if the insurance company requests the provision of an executed Proof of Loss, the policyholder MUST comply with this request prior to filing suit against the insurance company or otherwise moving forward with the claim. If the policyholder fails or refuses to provide the signed Proof of Loss along with all the requested information, this failure may be deemed a “failure to cooperate” with the insurance company’s investigation of the loss and could become a complete bar to payment on the loss.

If your insurance company requests that you provide a Proof of Loss in support of your claim, it is highly advised that you obtain the assistance of a qualified insurance claim lawyer that has experience dealing with the tactics used by insurance companies to deny damage claims.  Please feel free to call our office with any questions you may have about a Proof of Loss or if we can be of any assistance with any other part of your insurance damage claim.

Although the terms Actual Cash Value and Replacement Cost Value are not commonly used outside of property insurance disputes, they can have a substantial effect on the amount of money you receive from your insurance company after a loss.

After your insurance company determines that your insurance policy provides coverage for your loss, the insurance company has various ways to calculate the value it will pay you for your lost or damaged property.  There are two main methods by which the insurance company calculates the value of your damaged property – Actual Cash Value and Replacement Cost Value – both of which will be discussed in detail below.

Actual Cash Value

Actual Cash Value (“ACV”) represents the actual dollar value of the damaged item in its depreciated, but not damaged, condition.  Replacement Cost Value (“RCV”) represents the cost to actually rebuild or replace the damaged item with a new one. For example, let’s say your five year old 55” television was destroyed by a covered cause of loss. Since television prices are constantly dropping, the television you paid $1,000.00 for five years ago may now have a present “actual cash value” of only $200.00, which represents what you could actually sell a five year old television for today.

Replacement Cash Value

On the other hand, let’s say the cost today to replace your damaged television with a brand new 55” television is $800.00 – which would represent the Replacement Cost Value of the television. Replacement cost insurance is designed to cover the difference between what property is actually worth and what it would cost to rebuild or repair that property. In essence, it is insurance to protect the depreciation of the insured property.

Under current law, most insurance policies provide that the insurance company only has to initially pay the value of the damage on an Actual Cash basis. Later, after the insured has completed the repairs or replaced the damaged item, the insurer then has the obligation to pay the additional amount of money necessary to bring the payments up to the Replacement Cost Value of the loss.

If You Have Questions Regarding Your Property Insurance Claim – Call (800) 451-6786 for Immediate Help.

It is important to note that the replacement or repair of the damaged property must actually occur, otherwise the insurer has no obligation to provide the additional replacement cost reimbursement under the policy.  If the policyholder fails to make the repairs or replace the damaged property, the insurer is only required to pay the actual cash value of the loss.  Similarly, if the policyholder performs the full extent of the repairs for less than the amount of the initial Actual Cash Value payment, the policyholder is not entitled to then seek additional Replacement Cost Value funds (as the initial ACV payment was sufficient to fully repair/replace the item).

Lastly (and perhaps most importantly), the insurance company does not have the unbridled right to determine the Actual Cash Value of your damages – or the Replacement Cost Value, for that matter.  As a policyholder, you have the right to question the insurance company’s damage payment and to determine whether such payment is sufficient to fully compensate you for your loss.  Should you have any questions whatsoever with regard to your insurance claim, contact our office and we would be happy to discuss your claim with you.

 

Policyholders are often shocked to learn that the loss settlement check they receive from the insurance company is payable not only to the policyholder, but to their mortgage company as well.   Homeowners insurance policies are broken down into several types of coverage – whether for the building, personal property, liability, alternative living expense, or other losses.  For certain types of coverage, the insurance policy will list the mortgage company as an “additional payee” on the policy – which means that the mortgage company’s name must be listed on any loss settlement check.  

If you have any questions regarding your insurance claim, call (800) 451-6786 to speak with an insurance claim lawyer regarding your rights.

The reason the mortgage company is listed as an “additional payee” on the insurance policy is that the mortgage company has a vested interest in insurance coverage payments issued for any loss to the insured property.  The mortgage company presumably loaned money to the policyholder and, in order to provide a guarantee of repayment, the policyholder agreed to grant the bank a mortgage on the property as collateral for the loan.  

Should the subject property be damaged or destroyed, the unrepaired property would then be worth less than before the loss and therefore, the mortgage company would not have the same amount of security for the loan as prior to the loss.  In order to protect the mortgage company’s security for the loan, the mortgage company’s name will appear on all insurance loss payments related to the property given as collateral for the loan.  Because the property protects the mortgage company in case of non-payment of the loan by the policyholder, the mortgage holder has a strong interest in making sure the property is either repaired or the outstanding loan is paid down to a point at which the loan is again fully secured by the value of the property.

The inclusion of the mortgage company’s name on the insurance check usually just affects coverage relating to the actual building on the property, since the home is usually given as collateral for the mortgage loan.  On the other hand, claims for damage to personal property, liability, or loss of use do not relate to property subject to a mortgage and therefore settlement checks on these losses would not have to include mortgage company’s name as an additional payee.

do-i-really-need-flood-insuranceMost 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.

For an immediate consultation regarding your rights, call (800) 451-6786 today.

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.

Lightning StrikesAlthough 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.

If you have any questions about your Lightning Damage Claim, call (800) 451-6786 to immediately speak with a lawyer regarding your rights.

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.

 

 

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!

Yes, dear reader, the above title is correct.  A Florida Appellate Court actually had to rule that your homeowner’s insurance is not responsible to pay for damage caused by the “sudden explosion” of someone’s body.  If you don’t believe me, you can read the actual opinion here.

Per the facts of the case, Ms. Rodrigo filed a lawsuit against State Farm Insurance Company for the damage caused to her condominium unit by blood and bodily fluids that had leaked into her unit from the above unit.  Apparently, an elderly lady living above Ms. Rodrigo passed away and, since no one discovered the body for a long period of time, the body began to bloat and decay –  to the point that the gasses inside the corpse built up enough pressure and the body’s abdomen burst.  The sudden “bursting” of her body released gases and fluids which, per Mr. Rodrigo’s claim, leaked into Mr. Rodrigo’s unit and caused damage to her personal items and….well….certain smells.  (I’ll ignore the parts about the deceased lady having several hungry dogs in the unit and the manner by which those dogs kept their hunger at bay during this time.)

The issue then became how to pay for the damage caused by this yucky stuff.  The subject insurance policy was a “named peril” policy, which only provided coverage for causes of loss that are specifically listed in the policy.  After noting that there was no coverage for gooey bodily fluids, Ms. Rodrigo tried to obtain coverage under the named peril of “explosion” – apparently keeping a straight face while doing so.  At trial, she presented testimony from a doctor that the contents of the deceased’s body, after undergoing advanced decomposition, “explosively expanded and leaked”.  She argued that since there had been an “explosion” of the deceased’s organs – surely it would qualify as damage caused by an “explosion” under the terms of the insurance policy.

Needless to say, neither the trial court nor the appellate court (Really??  You actually appealed this to a higher court!) agreed with this interpretation.

 

 

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.