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.

Flooded.HouseAfter a flood or other substantial water event, flood insurance policy holders are often surprised to learn what is covered by their flood policy – and more surprisingly, what is NOT covered under their flood insurance policy.  As I have written about before, flood insurance is totally separate from homeowners insurance, and both provide separate coverage for different types of loss.  Specifically, homeowners insurance does not cover water damage from flood.

In order to qualify for coverage under your flood insurance policy, there must have been a “flood” in your area.  A “flood” condition occurs when water covers at least two acres of land that is normally dry, or if the water condition has damaged two or more properties in your area.  Additionally, this water has to come from either (1) overflowing or inland tidal waters, (2) unusual, rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source, or (3) mud flow (defined as mud that is carried by a flow of water, thereby creating a river of mud).  Depending on the circumstances, there may also be coverage for waterfront land that collapses or sinks as the result of water that is above anticipated cyclical levels.  Importantly, damage caused by water that overflows out of sinks, toilets, sewers, or similar sources does not qualify for flood insurance coverage, but should instead be covered by your homeowners insurance policy.

The maximum available coverage limit for flood insurance is currently $250,000.00 for your principal dwelling and $100,000.00 for personal property.  Unlike the coverage available under your homeowner’s insurance policy, the building coverage provided under your flood insurance policy is very specific as to what it covers – and what it doesn’t cover.  In order to avoid a lot of heartache later, you may want to review your policy before a loss in order to better understand the limited coverage that flood insurance actually provides.  You can click HERE to see a listing by FEMA as to the specific items that are currently covered under the standard National Flood Insurance Program policy.

The coverage for personal property loss under flood insurance is even more limited – especially for personal items in a basement.  In general, the only personal property covered below the “lowest elevated floor” would be your laundry equipment, freezer (but not refrigerator!), and portable air conditioner.  There is no coverage for any flooring, drywall, window treatments, or any other type of personal property (furniture, electronics, etc.) stored in your basement or below the lowest elevated floor.  As an additional jab, your flood insurance policy only covers your personal property on an “actual cash value basis”, as opposed to what you actually paid for the items or what it would take to replace them.

There is no flood insurance coverage for any loss of use, additional living expenses, or temporary housing while your home is being repaired.  There is also no coverage for any loss of business income.

As you can imagine, the flood insurance policies issued by the National Flood Insurance Program are not overly consumer friendly and really only provide the most basic of coverage.  Should you ever have questions regarding the coverage available under your insurance policy or the manner by which to submit a claim, please feel free to contact our office and we will do our best to answer any questions you may have.

 

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.

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.

 

 

The University of Florida Gators were scheduled to play football against the University of Idaho Vandals on August 30, 2014 in what was to be the Gators season home opener in Gainesville, Florida.  The football game was initially scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m., but due to heavy rains and lightning, the start of the game was repeatedly delayed and ultimately began around 10:00 p.m.  After the first play of the game – Idaho kicking off to the Gators – additional lightning appeared and forced the eventual cancellation of the game.  Although the two teams could have potentially rescheduled this game for a bye-week later in the season, officials from both schools ultimately decided against it.

So – all of that is nice, but what does it have to do with insurance you say?  Well, due to the financial acumen of UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley, the Florida Gators have always maintained an insurance policy to cover any loss in ticket revenue should a game be cancelled.  Prior to each home game, the University provides its insurer, Lloyd’s of London, with an estimate of both prospective ticket sales and any potential losses.  If a game is cancelled or if the University otherwise incurs a total loss of ticket revenue for a game, the insurance carrier pays the University for this loss.

Since the football game between Florida and Idaho was cancelled, the University refunded the purchase price to all ticket holders and placed a claim against Lloyd’s of London for the revenue the University stood to make on these ticket sales.  End result?  Although the score of the actual football game ended at 0-0, the University of Florida still walked away with a cool $1,800,000.00.

 

Over the past few months, many Citizens Property Insurance policy holders received a notification that, unless they opted out within a certain time frame, their property insurance would be automatically transferred out of Citizens and into one of several small start-up insurance companies.  These newly formed property insurance carriers have been nick-named “take-out” companies because their sole source of new business is to take over property insurance policies that have been transferred out of Citizens.  This process has created a love/love relationship between Citizens and these new insurance companies as, through the transfer of policies out of Citizens and into these new start-ups, Citizens can further its goal of depopulating its customer base and the new start-ups get “free” customers without having to market for same.

Of course, all is not rosy for the actual policy holder.  As a recent report reflected, the recent crop of small, in-state property insurance companies have no record of withstanding the losses associated with a major hurricane and have not fared well with insurance industry rankings.  In fact, these new companies only average a “C-minus” rating by Weiss Ratings and 11 of these companies have failed since 2006 – without even having a major storm or hurricane to drive up the claims!  According to the new Weiss Ratings, 19 of the 48 Florida-based property insurance companies received a rating of “D-minus” or worse, which is eye-opening in light of the fact that Florida homeowners pay about $6 billion dollars a year to these companies and we haven’t had a large scale insurable event in over a decade.

The take away is that, although you may not be thrilled with the coverage or level of service that you may be getting from Citizens Property Insurance, you had better think twice about switching to one of the new take-out companies.  Despite all of its problems, Citizens does not have the failure risk of the small private companies and Citizens will always have the money to pay claims – even though it may take years to do so!

tornado-damage-floridaOver the last few days, Central Florida has been pounded by torrential rain, tornadoes and high winds.  These damaging windstorms and tornados were especially violent in Manatee, Sarasota, Lee, Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.  These thunder storms caused flooding in Shore Acres, wind damage in Siesta Key, and claimed the lives of two people in Duette.  Now that the storms have past, we are left to deal with the damage done by this weather event.  Fortunately, most people have homeowners insurance to help pay for the damage to their property, but as we have often seen, going through the insurance claim process can be a world of heartache all its own.

After the storm or tornado has past and/or the flood waters have receded, you should immediately contact your insurance company and place them on notice of your claim.  The sooner you start the insurance claim process, the better chance all parties have of accurately calculating your damage and the cost to repair same. You should also take whatever ever steps you can to mitigate the damage caused to your property and otherwise take action to keep additional damage from occurring.  You should also, to the best of your ability, make a listing of the damaged property.  Although making a listing of your damaged property can be difficult – especially when the items are missing or totally destroyed – you are the best person to know the extent of your property.  If you can’t properly itemize your lost or damaged property, most likley the insurance company will not reimbuse you for same.

After a storm or other weather event, you may also have to deal with emergency restoration companies.  These companies will come to your house soon after the damage occurs and will do the immediate repairs or restoration that may be necessary to protect your home from further damage.  These services usually include the placement of large fans or other equipment to dry out your property, the installation of tarps over your damaged roof, or other similar activities.  Although these services can often be crucial for the protection of your property, always remember that these services are very expensive and that you only have a certain amount of money under your insurance policy limits with which to repair your home.  If large sums of your policy limits are spent on these initial emergency repairs, you run the risk of not having sufficient funds remaining to repair the remainder of your home.  Therefore, it is always important to obtain an agreed upon written estimate of the work prior to the performance of same.

Lastly, it is important to remember the difference between flood insurance and wind insurance.  Your normal policy of property insurance does not cover flood damage – meaning damage caused by “rising water”, but will only cover damage caused by water which was “blown into” your home by wind.  For instance, if your property was damaged by water that had been blown in through a window or a damaged roof, your normal homeowners policy would cover it.  If the damage was caused by water rising from a nearby creek, your homeowner’s policy would not cover the damage.  It is crucial that you understand the coverages available to you prior to authorizing any repair work to your home.  If you authorize a contractor to dry out your home after a flood and then realize that you do not have flood insurance – you will be on the hook to pay the contractor out of your own pocket!

As always, should you have any questions regarding what coverage may be available to you under your insurance policy, please feel free to contact our office and we will do our best to answer any questions you may have regarding your property damage claim.

 

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

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

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

By now, most Floridians have heard about – or even experienced – the incredible spike in flood insurance premiums that are coming their way due to the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.  In short, the Biggert-Waters act is a new federal law which attempts to address a $24 billion dollar deficit in the coffers of the National Flood Insurance Program by raising flood insurance rates across the board.

Unfortunately, the slipshod manner by which this law was enacted is going to have a catastrophic affect on the economy of Florida and the financial future of many Floridians.  The Tampa Bay Times wrote just the other day about a Seminole couple who was looking down the barrel at a 900 percent increase in their flood insurance premium.  Contrary to the initial thoughts of many, Florida is not known for incurring large amounts of flood losses.  In fact, many studies have shown that Floridians have only received about $1 in claim payouts for every $4 that Floridians have paid into the federal flood insurance program.  Despite not having a large amount of historical claims, Florida does stand out as having the most overall flood policies issued – over 2 million policies and counting.  Because of the sheer number of these policies, Florida must bear the brunt of the steep rise in premiums.

But – even if the Feds have thrown Florida under the bus, help may be on the way from our Florida legislature.   State Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg has said that he is close to filing a bill that would encourage private insurance companies to offer flood insurance in Florida.  Normally, flood insurance is not provided under your normal homeowner’s insurance policy and must be purchased separately through the federal flood insurance program.  This new proposed legislation would encourage private insurance companies to offer an alternative to the federal flood coverage by making changes in the residential “surplus lines” insurance market.  In general, surplus lines insurance carriers are not as regulated as “normal” insurance carriers and are not subject to many of Florida’s laws and requirements (including rate regulation).  Lloyds of London, for instance, is a surplus lines carrier, as opposed to State Farm Florida Insurance Company, which is a “non-surplus lines” insurance company and therefore subject to the laws and regulations of Florida.

It has become clear that any relief for Florida property owners will have to come from reforms at the State level as opposed to waiting for the Federal government to take action.  Considering the large available market for the issuance of private flood insurance policies and the relatively low occurrence of flood claims, Florida may well turn out to be quite a profitable endeavor for a private insurance carrier willing to take on the risk.

 

Citizens Property Insurance Corporation has been earning a reputation for systematically denying almost every insurance claim asserted by its policyholders.  Instead of honoring valid claims, Citizens spends millions of dollars each month “defending” claims – the same type of claims that other insurance companies would routinely pay without question.  Although those of us in the industry have been decrying Citizens’ business practices for years, last week the Tampa Bay Times finally posted an article pointing out Citizens’ track record of fighting valid insurance coverage claims and needlessly lining the pockets of law firms to “defend” against these claims.

Now, on the chance you might believe that Citizens’ policy of denying claims and raising meritless defenses is just urban legend, I offer the following examples of Citizens’ behavior from our recent experience:

Example A – Our client presented Citizens with a sinkhole damage claim, which Citizens summarily denied.  We provided Citizens with testing evidence which undeniably reflected sinkhole activity on our client’s property and also provided reports from neighbors on all three adjacent sides (left, right and behind) which had been confirmed for sinkhole activity.  Citizens’ response?  They offered $500.  They also promised that, once the policy holder ultimately won at trial (which they conceded would happen), Citizens would appeal the outcome (regardless of merit) in order to further drag out the process.

Example B – Citizens’ engineers actually confirmed sinkhole activity on the property of another one of our clients, but still – three years later – Citizens refuses to pay for the appropriate repair of the property.  Just yesterday, a large sinkhole actually opened up directly next to their house.  Our clients’ story even made the evening news last night.  Even so, Citizens refuses to provide coverage for the appropriate repair of the home.

Sadly, there is no one guarding the hen house at Citizens.  Outside vendors – mostly insurance defense law firms with the most to gain from Citizens’ stance on fighting claims – have convinced Citizens that the best way to handle claims is to fight tooth and nail on every issue, even when there is absolutely no chance of winning.  Obviously, the harder you fight payment on a given claim, the more money the insurance defense law firm can make billing Citizens for delaying/defending/denying the claim.

The other side of this coin is that, once the policy holder ultimately prevails on his claim, the insurance company is also responsible for the payment of the policyholder’s attorney’s fees and costs.  Accordingly, Citizens ultimate “reward” for denying valid claims is that the insurance company has to pay (1) the full amount of the repair costs, (2) pre-judgment interest on this amount, (3) the policyholder’s attorney’s fees and costs, and (4) Citizens’ own attorney’s fees and costs.  It doesn’t take a financial genius to see that it makes more sense to resolve a valid claim early in the process – and thereby avoid the payment of items (2) through (4) above – rather than needlessly waste money defending a claim which the insurance company will ultimately have to pay anyway.  But until there is a change of heart – or management – at Citizens Property Insurance, it may be best to retain qualified representation early in the insurance claim process.