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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 loss, an insurance company will often mandate that the policyholder complete and sign a form called a Proof of Loss regarding the damages claimed by the policyholder. A Proof of Loss is a one page form (possibly with attachments) that is usually provided to the policyholder by the insurance company.

The Proof of Loss form requests specific information from the policyholder regarding the date and time the loss occurred, type of loss claimed, the available insurance policy limits, and the exact amount of damages sought by the policyholder. The Proof of Loss form may also mandate that the policyholder attach any damage estimates or other calculations that support the policyholder’s claims.

If you have any questions regarding the insurance claim process, please do not hesitate to call us at (800) 451-6786.

The policyholder must fill out this Proof of Loss form completely, sign it in front of a notary, and then timely provide the notarized Proof of Loss back to the insurance company. The insurance policy usually mandates that the policyholder has to provide the signed Proof of Loss within 60 days of the insurance company’s request.

Do I Have to Provide a  Proof of Loss?

The most important issue relating to a Proof of Loss is that if the insurance company requests the provision of an executed Proof of Loss, the policyholder MUST comply with this request prior to filing suit against the insurance company or otherwise moving forward with the claim. If the policyholder fails or refuses to provide the signed Proof of Loss along with all the requested information, this failure may be deemed a “failure to cooperate” with the insurance company’s investigation of the loss and could become a complete bar to payment on the loss.

If your insurance company requests that you provide a Proof of Loss in support of your claim, it is highly advised that you obtain the assistance of a qualified insurance claim lawyer that has experience dealing with the tactics used by insurance companies to deny damage claims.  Please feel free to call our office with any questions you may have about a Proof of Loss or if we can be of any assistance with any other part of your insurance damage claim.

Although the terms Actual Cash Value and Replacement Cost Value are not commonly used outside of property insurance disputes, they can have a substantial effect on the amount of money you receive from your insurance company after a loss.

After your insurance company determines that your insurance policy provides coverage for your loss, the insurance company has various ways to calculate the value it will pay you for your lost or damaged property.  There are two main methods by which the insurance company calculates the value of your damaged property – Actual Cash Value and Replacement Cost Value – both of which will be discussed in detail below.

Actual Cash Value

Actual Cash Value (“ACV”) represents the actual dollar value of the damaged item in its depreciated, but not damaged, condition.  Replacement Cost Value (“RCV”) represents the cost to actually rebuild or replace the damaged item with a new one. For example, let’s say your five year old 55” television was destroyed by a covered cause of loss. Since television prices are constantly dropping, the television you paid $1,000.00 for five years ago may now have a present “actual cash value” of only $200.00, which represents what you could actually sell a five year old television for today.

Replacement Cash Value

On the other hand, let’s say the cost today to replace your damaged television with a brand new 55” television is $800.00 – which would represent the Replacement Cost Value of the television. Replacement cost insurance is designed to cover the difference between what property is actually worth and what it would cost to rebuild or repair that property. In essence, it is insurance to protect the depreciation of the insured property.

Under current law, most insurance policies provide that the insurance company only has to initially pay the value of the damage on an Actual Cash basis. Later, after the insured has completed the repairs or replaced the damaged item, the insurer then has the obligation to pay the additional amount of money necessary to bring the payments up to the Replacement Cost Value of the loss.

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

It is important to note that the replacement or repair of the damaged property must actually occur, otherwise the insurer has no obligation to provide the additional replacement cost reimbursement under the policy.  If the policyholder fails to make the repairs or replace the damaged property, the insurer is only required to pay the actual cash value of the loss.  Similarly, if the policyholder performs the full extent of the repairs for less than the amount of the initial Actual Cash Value payment, the policyholder is not entitled to then seek additional Replacement Cost Value funds (as the initial ACV payment was sufficient to fully repair/replace the item).

Lastly (and perhaps most importantly), the insurance company does not have the unbridled right to determine the Actual Cash Value of your damages – or the Replacement Cost Value, for that matter.  As a policyholder, you have the right to question the insurance company’s damage payment and to determine whether such payment is sufficient to fully compensate you for your loss.  Should you have any questions whatsoever with regard to your insurance claim, contact our office and we would be happy to discuss your claim with you.

 

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.

 

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.
 

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.  

If you have any questions regarding your insurance claim, call (800) 451-6786 to speak with an insurance claim lawyer regarding your rights.

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.