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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.
 

VibrationPropertyDamageDevelopers and construction firms often elect to use heavy equipment, blasting or pile driving in the performance of their construction projects.   If your property is in close proximity to a construction project where heavy equipment, pile driving or blasting is being used, your property may incur damage related to the vibration caused by these activities.

If you believe your property has sustained damage due to vibration-related sources, you can assess whether your damage was the result of vibration by using any of the following methods:

Pre-Construction Condition Surveys – Prior to beginning the construction project, the contractor most likely prepared a pre-construction condition survey of the properties adjacent to the construction project in order to document any existing damage to the properties.  This document may include photos and/or video of the properties, along with notations of any existing damage.  This document or report is usually available from the building contractor or developer.

Seismograph Reports – A seismograph can be used to monitor the vibrations being caused by the construction activities and to document the intensity of the vibration.  An analysis of this data would help determine whether the vibration intensities reached a level that could have caused damage to your property.

Historical Data – In some instances, there may be historical data as to the intensity of vibration caused by the use of certain equipment.  If such information is available, it may not be necessary to use a seismograph to assess the intensity of the vibration caused by specific construction activities.  This historical data may then be further analyzed in relation to the distance between your property and the equipment being used.

Property Inspection – The inspection of your property is the easiest and most obvious manner by which to assess whether your property has incurred damage from construction-related vibration.  Most importantly, you must determine whether the current visible damage pre-existed the use of the vibration-causing equipment by the construction company.  Clearly, if the damage to your property existed prior to the beginning of the vibration causing activities, the damage is not the result of such activities.

If you believe your property has been damaged by the use of heavy equipment, pile driving, blasting, or any other vibration inducing activities, you should contact an attorney with experience handling vibration damage claims.  Our firm has handled vibration damage claims on behalf of both residential and commercial property owners.

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.