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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.
 

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

la-epa-mexico-earthquake-jpg-20140418As can be easily witnessed as you drive around town, construction companies often use blasting, pile driving, dewatering and heavy equipment in the performance of large construction projects.  Many times, damage can be caused to buildings on nearby properties due to the  enormous amount of vibration generated by these activities.  The question then becomes whether the cost to repair the damage caused by this vibration is covered under the property owner’s property insurance policy.

For many years, insurance companies sought to exclude coverage for such damage through the use of the “Earth Movement” exclusion found in most policies of insurance.  Although the exact wording of the definition may change from policy to policy, the usual earth movement exclusion language is similar to the following:

  1. We do not insure for loss caused directly or indirectly by any of the following.  Such loss is excluded regardless of any other cause or event contributing concurrently or in any sequence to the loss.

………..

  1. Earth Movement, meaning earthquake, including land shock waves or tremors before, during or after a volcanic eruption; landslide, mine subsidence; mudflow; earth sinking, rising or shifting; unless direct loss by:

(1)  Fire; or

(2)  Explosion….

The question as to whether coverage should be afforded to this type of damage was heavily litigated for many years, until the Supreme Court of Florida finally clarified this issue in the case of Fayad vs. Clarendon National Insurance Company, 889 So.2d 1082 (2005).  After an in depth analysis of the issues, the answer finally given by the Florida Supreme Court was – “Maybe”.

In the Fayad case, the insured’s property had incurred a substantial amount of damage due to blasting activities taking place near their home.  When the insureds presented a claim for this damage, their insurance company denied their claim based upon the insurance policy’s Earth Movement exclusion.

Ultimately, the Florida Supreme Court found that the subject insurance policy DID provide coverage for this type of loss and that the insurance company was responsible for the payment of the insured’s damages.  The Court based its decision on the specific language of the subject insurance policy and the fact that the policy seemed to only exclude earth movement or vibration caused by a “natural event” as opposed to a manmade event.  Specifically, the Court concluded:

We interpret Clarendon’s earth movement exclusion to exclude damage caused by earth movement arising from natural events from coverage rather than damage cause by earth movement arising from any cause, including man-made events such as blasting.  

If the Supreme Court found that the policy covered this type of loss, why did I say that the Court’s ultimate answer was “Maybe”?   The reality is that insurance companies tend to learn from their mistakes and many insurance companies have since re-written their policies to clarify their intention to eliminate Earth Movement caused by any event – including manmade events such as blasting.  Therefore, if you believe you have damage to your property that may be the result of blasting, pile driving or other vibration activities, please contact our office so that we may review your situation and provide a free consultation as to your rights.

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.

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.

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.