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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 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.

 

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

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.

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.

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.

 

Almost every time we speak to a new client regarding their hail damage insurance claim, our clients tell us that the insurance company representative told them some variation of one or more of the below statements.  Unfortunately, insurance company adjusters have a habit of trying to convince property owners that they have “no business” filing legitimate hail damage claims, and even try to convince the hapless homeowners to drop their claims.  We’ve put together the below list of insurance company representations and have pointed out the truth underlying these misstatements

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

1.  “Since you don’t have much damage, you shouldn’t file a claim” – In reality, if you have any damage whatsoever from a covered cause of loss, you have the absolute right to place a claim with your insurance company for the repair of this damage.  Moreover, even if the damage to your roof may not seem severe at the moment, if left un-repaired, it may eventually lead to additional leaks and problems down the road – which could end up costing substantially more to repair.  Better to get the repairs taken care of immediately so that additional subsequent damage can be avoided.

2.  “If you file a claim, your insurance company will cancel your policy” – In fact, most states have laws which specifically prohibit insurance companies from cancelling a policy solely because of the insured’s placement of a claim.  Not only is the insurance company prohibited from taking this action, the insurance company might be exposing itself to a claim for bad faith claims handling as well.

3.  “Since it doesn’t look like you’ve lost any roof shingles, you must not have any hail damage.” –  This is one of the most common statements, and is really a total misdirection.  Missing shingles are usually related to wind damage claims (hurricanes, tropical storms, etc.), and are not an absolute indicator of hail related damage.  A roof may be substantially damaged by hail, even though the actual shingles appear to still be in place after the storm.   Furthermore, the damage may not cause leaking until well after the storm.  Therefore, it is crucial to have a qualified expert examine your roof after a storm to fully evaluate the damage to your property.

4.  “If you file a claim, your insurance rates will go up.”  Let’s be honest, if a storm or other large weather event comes through your area, the insurance company is going to raise everyone’s rates anyway.  So if your insurance premiums go up and you are the only person on your block who didn’t file a claim, your increased premium dollars will just be used for paying everyone else’s claims and not yours.

5.  “You should place a claim with your manufacturer’s warranty/home builder/building contractor for this damage.”  – The reality is that most manufacturer’s warranties specifically exclude damage caused to your roofing shingles by hail.  Furthermore, home builders and contractors will only be liable for faulty workmanship or failure of the products and services they provided as part of the scope of their employment.  Absent some specific (and hard to imagine) language in a home builder’s contract that states that the builder agrees to be liable for acts of nature which occur after the home is built, there would be no cause of action against the building contractor for hail damage.

6.  “Since you didn’t notify us immediately after the hail incident, you cannot make a claim.” – Although there may be various limitations under law or in your policy which govern the time frame within which you must place your claim, such limitations usually allow ample time to make your claim and do not mandate that your claim is automatically barred if you didn’t notify the insurance company the day after the event.  Although it is important to consult with a legal professional as to what limitations may exist in your policy or under the laws of your state, the process recognizes that it may take a while to fully become aware of the damage and to notify your insurance company of same.

Always keep in mind that the individual the insurance company sends to initially inspect your damage is either an employee of the insurance company or an outside adjuster who relies upon the insurance company for his standard of living.  Although usually these representatives do their best to honor the insurance company’s obligations to you, do yourself a favor and never forget who butters this person’s bread.

If you have any doubts about whether you are getting a fair shake from your insurance company, please call (800) 451-6786 for a Free and Immediate Consultation regarding your rights.

 

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.