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.

 

It may come as a surprise to many homeowners, but you may be able to substantially reduce your homeowner’s property insurance premiums by just looking through the provisions of your policy.  Specifically, most homeowner’s insurance policies set forth numerous premium “credits” for which you can qualify based upon the age and condition of your home.  These available credits are usually listed in the documents you receive along with your annual policy renewal – you know, the stuff you never read and immediately throw away.

For instance, you may be entitled to a substantial premium discount if your roof has wind mitigation straps.  These straps literally “tie” your roof to your exterior walls and may help avoid the structural failure of your roof and walls during a high wind event.  If your home was built after 2002 or if your roof has been recently replaced, your home most likely has these straps as the use of such was mandated after the building code was amended in 2002.  You should hire a wind mitigation specialist to do an inspection and to determine whether your roof has these wind mitigation straps and whether you qualify for any other premium discounts.  These inspections usually cost between $75.00 to $100.00 – a small investment considering the reduction in premiums you may be able to obtain.

As with many things, the devil is in the details, and this process will require that you take the time to read the onerous and often-times purposefully confusing provisions of your insurance policy – but you may be able to save several hundred dollars (every year!) in homeowner’s insurance premiums.  Better in your pocket than in your insurance company’s wallet!  As always, should you have any questions regarding your insurance policy, please feel free to give our office a call.

An essential part of hurricane preparation is having a plan for your family long before a storm arrives.  Once the storm arrives, it is too late to start thinking about contingencies and making plans for your family’s safety.  Your basic plan can be re-used each year, but make sure to review your plan each year and make any updates necessary.

Although every family’s hurricane preparation plan will be different, here are some recommendations to help better prepare for a storm:

– Know ahead of time if you will evacuate and if so, where you will go if you do evacuate.  Be familiar with evacuation routes and stay connected to local news broadcasts for the latest tropical storm information.

– Have supplies ready to go, or if you plan to stay and weather the storm, make sure your home is well stocked with enough hurricane supplies to get you through the storm and the aftermath.

– If you are going to evacuate, make sure you have any important papers – like home insurance documents, medical insurance cards and prescription medications.

– Make sure you have plenty of cash on hand and that your car has a full tank of gas.  If the power goes out for any extended period of time, you may not be able to access ATMs or re-fill your car’s gas tank.

– Make sure to pack all necessary clothes for the time you believe you may be away from your home, as well has personal hygiene products, cell phone chargers, and a list of any important telephone numbers you think you may need.

– Make sure that all of your family members have a designated contact person (outside the area affected by the storm) to make contact with after the storm.

It should only take a few minutes to make a hurricane preparation plan, but having a plan will provide peace of mind once the storm hits and may help protect the safety of your family.  If you have any questions about how to protect your family or property from storm damage, please feel free to contact us and we will do our best to assist you and to answer any questions you may have.

 

Now that the hurricane season has officially begun, the prevention of wind damage should be on the forefront of every Floridian’s mind.  Although there is nothing we can do to prevent hurricanes or other storms from occurring, there are steps we can take to minimize the damage these storms cause to our homes and property.

The first step is to inspect your roof for any loose, damaged or missing shingles.   This pre-existing damage makes your roof more susceptible to damage once the storm winds begin.  While inspecting your roof, also check your attic for swollen wood or moisture that could indicate a leak in the roof.  Also check your windows and doors for maintenance issues and verify that the caulking to your windows and door jambs is in good condition.  These simple steps could save you thousands of dollars in damage repairs once the wind begins to blow and water starts looking for a way to get into your house and cause damage.

You should also check your property for dangerous looking limbs and branches.  Wind is Mother Nature’s way of pruning, so check trees on your property for potential hazards.  If any limbs are hanging over your home and looking as if they may be dead or damaged, these limbs should be removed immediately in order to avoid wind damage.

The Beaufort Wind Scale, as set forth by the University of North Carolina, has set forth the following guidelines for the damage expected to be caused by the following wind speeds:

39 MPH – Gale force winds; twigs and small branches blown off trees.

47 MPH – Strong gale force winds; minor structural damage may occur, such as shingles blown off roof.

55 MPH – Storm winds; trees can be uprooted and structural damage is likely.

64 MPH – Violent storm; widespread damage to structures.

74 MPH+ – Hurricane force winds.

As indicated by the guidelines above, even a minor wind storm can cause a substantial amount of damage to your home and property.  Although our firm stands ready to assist Florida property owners with any wind damage insurance claims they may have, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and the performance of a few pre-emptive steps may help to prevent headaches from wind damage down the road.

Recently, the Sun Sentinel newspaper wote an article regarding some of the urban legends, myths and not-quite-accurate beliefs some people have about hurricanes.  Although on initial blush such information may seem like just interesting fodder for conversations at the water cooler, the reality is that the information contained in this article could save a lot of heartache and help avoid an unnecessary loss of property.  The full text of the article appears below: 

Like many catastrophic phenomena, hurricanes have become encrusted with mythology.

From bad advice on how to protect your home to erroneous ideas about the most dangerous regions within a hurricane, meteorologists hear all sorts of lore from the public. Some are harmless baloney, others are genuinely dangerous.

“There are a lot of hurricane myths out there. Many contain a grain of truth. That’s how they got started,” said Steve Letro, a retired meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville. “Our challenge is to convince the public that official information is actually going to be more correct than what they heard from the guy standing in line at Walmart.”

Here are some of the myths, according to Letro and Chris Landsea, science and operations officer of the National Hurricane Center. They spoke last week at the Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Fort Lauderdale.

Myth: To prepare for a hurricane, tape up your windows with masking tape. This idea actually appeared in publications of the old U.S. Weather Bureau, and a recent survey by the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes found that 70 percent of people in the southeastern United States believed this is an effective way to protect your home.

Reality: This accomplishes nothing and yields a false sense of security. A wind-born tree branch, coconut or garbage can would smash through glass with or without tape. Use shutters or impact glass.

Myth: When a hurricane is approaching, you should open windows on the side of the house where the wind is not expected so you can equalize the air pressure and prevent your house from exploding.

Reality: Completely unnecessary because the pressure changes slowly and no house is airtight, so it will equalize anyway. Opening windows as a hurricane approaches only invites in blasts of wind, rain and debris.

Myth: The strongest winds in a hurricane can be found in the storm’s northeast quadrant.

Reality: Usually this is the case, but not always. For instance, because Wilma approached Florida from the west in 2005, its strongest winds were in its southwest quadrant.

Myth: If a hurricane’s sustained winds are 100 mph and it’s moving west at 15 mph, it’s packing a wind total of 115 mph.

Reality: Wrong. The National Hurricane Center already did the math for you to come up with the wind speed. It will vary through the hurricane, but you can’t just add the steering winds to the rotating winds and come up with the total.

Myth: The storm surge of a hurricane is primarily a result of the lowered air pressure sucking the water up as if through a straw.

Reality: Although the “barometric effect” is a factor, 95 percent of the cause of the storm surge is the hurricane’s winds pushing the water toward shore.

Myth: Hurricanes turn toward the north because they’re following the Gulf Stream.

Reality: Not completely off base, but still wrong. The Gulf Stream current and the typical paths of hurricanes are both the result of northerly wind patterns along the southeast coast of the United States, which is part of the larger circulation of winds around the center of the North Atlantic.

Myth: This is the 21st century, and we should be able to put our technological wizardry to work to destroy hurricanes. We can accomplish this by towing icebergs from the arctic to weaken them with cold water, using giant pipes to bring up cold water from the ocean depths, seeding clouds to force the rain out of them at sea, coat the ocean along their path with oil to stop evaporating water from powering the storm, erecting giant fans to blow the hurricane back out to sea or breaking up a hurricane with hydrogen bombs.

Reality: All impossible, and a few would make things worse. Like many crackpot ideas, however, they are built around a kernel of reality. It would theoretically be possible to fatally weaken a hurricane with icebergs, but towing enough of them into its path would require all the merchant ships currently in service in the world. Even nuclear weapons don’t have sufficient power to do the job. All they would accomplish would be to create a radioactive hurricane.

Hopefully, the information in the above article will come in handy – if not at the water cooler, than in preparation for an upcoming storm. 

 

Last fall, Hurricane Sandy caused devastating damage to the eastern seaboard – yet the National Hurricane Center did not issue any sort of hurricane warning to the people north of North Carolina.  It is not that the National Hurricane Center was negligent in any way, it is just that by the time Sandy reached the more northern coastlines, Sandy’s maximum sustained winds had died down below the 74 mile per hour threshold in order to be considered a hurricane.  Since Sandy was no longer a hurricane, the storm did not qualify under the then existing standards to issue a hurricane warning to those in the path of the storm.  Clearly, even though the storm did not officially qualify as a hurricane and was “only” a tropical storm upon landfall, Sandy still brought catastrophic damage and caused billions of dollars of destroyed property.

The National Hurricane Center is working to fix this problem.  The Center has now added the following phrase to its definition of Hurricane Warning – “Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical storm force winds.”  Hopefully this expanded definition will better allow the National Hurricane Center to better warn those people in harm’s way and to help mitigate the catastrophic property losses arising out of such storms – hurricane or not. 

 

After watching scores of television commercials and other paid advertisements touting the supporting and nurturing nature of insurance companies, one can’t help but feel that the “good hands people” will always act “like a good neighbor” once a policy holder incurs a loss.  After years of practicing insurance claims law, we have learned the unfortunate truth that insurance companies – like all big corporations – are only after one thing.  Profit!  Unfortunately, the way the insurance companies make this profit is by collecting insurance premiums from its insureds for years and then, upon the placement of a claim by its insured, denying or otherwise minimizing the payment the insurance company makes to the insured on the claim.

A perfect example of this attitute was reflected in a claim we recently resolved for one of our clients.  Our client was a 90 year old gentleman who had served his country honorably in the military for decades and had even parachuted into France the day before D-Day!  He was one of the original members of USAA Property and Casualty Insurance and had been insured by them for 60 years – without ever having made a claim!  After noticing a substantial amount of cracking to his house, he placed a sinkhole claim with his insurance company, only to be summarily denied – in spite of the fact that the report from the insurance company’s expert clearly reflected sinkhole activity and that sinkhole activity had been confirmed to be a cause of loss to all of the other houses in his neighborhood!  After vigorously pursuing this matter for our client, the insurance company eventually agreed to a substantial settlement which allowed our client to finally repair his home.

Although insurance companies will often try to do the right thing, their judgment is too often clouded by their desire to keep your premium dollars in the insurance company’s coffers.  If you ever have the unfortunate experience of incurring a loss or other damage, make sure you seek the advice and counsel of an insurance claim professional who can explain your rights and make sure you are appropriately compensated for your loss.