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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

 

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.”

If you have any questions about hurricane deductibles or any other part of your insurance claim – call (800) 451-6786 to speak with a lawyer today.

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.

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.

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.

 

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  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.

 

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.