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.

The  severe weather that recently swept through the area left many property owners with damage to their roofs from the storms and high winds.  When massive storm damage appears, the environment is ripe for an illegal activity that often plagues Florida – roofing scams.

The usual manner by which these roofing scams play out is that an alleged “roofer” contacts a property owner and claims that the roofer can act as an insurance adjuster to help the property owner with the insurance claim.  The crooked roofer will promise the world to the property owner in order to get the property owner to hire the roofer to “handle” the claim, and may also request that the property owner assign to the roofer all rights to any of the proceeds of the insurance claim.  The roofer will then perform substandard repairs to the property and submit an inflated bill for these services to the insurance company.  The roofer will often times, as an “additional service” to the property owner, attempt to trick the insurance company into paying for other (non-roof) portions of the property by hiding/misnaming such costs in his bill for roofing repairs.  Many of these crooked roofers are fly-by-night operators that merely swing into town after a storm event and then, once the work dries up, move on to the next town – with no intention of standing behind their roofing repairs or providing any sort of warranty.

This activity is not only unethical, but illegal as well.  Before you hire a roofing contractor, make sure you research the contractor’s track record with the Better Business Bureau and make sure the contractor provides accurate contact information in case there is an issue with their work.  Lastly, if you ever have a dispute with your insurance company, it doesn’t make sense to hire a roofing company to advocate your claim – hire either a licensed public adjuster or an attorney with experience handling insurance claim disputes.

 

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.

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 feel free to call our office.

 

Now that the hurricane season has officially begun, the prevention of wind damage should be on the forefront of every Floridian’s mind.  Although there is nothing we can do to prevent hurricanes or other storms from occurring, there are steps we can take to minimize the damage these storms cause to our homes and property.

The first step is to inspect your roof for any loose, damaged or missing shingles.   This pre-existing damage makes your roof more susceptible to damage once the storm winds begin.  While inspecting your roof, also check your attic for swollen wood or moisture that could indicate a leak in the roof.  Also check your windows and doors for maintenance issues and verify that the caulking to your windows and door jambs is in good condition.  These simple steps could save you thousands of dollars in damage repairs once the wind begins to blow and water starts looking for a way to get into your house and cause damage.

You should also check your property for dangerous looking limbs and branches.  Wind is Mother Nature’s way of pruning, so check trees on your property for potential hazards.  If any limbs are hanging over your home and looking as if they may be dead or damaged, these limbs should be removed immediately in order to avoid wind damage.

The Beaufort Wind Scale, as set forth by the University of North Carolina, has set forth the following guidelines for the damage expected to be caused by the following wind speeds:

39 MPH – Gale force winds; twigs and small branches blown off trees.

47 MPH – Strong gale force winds; minor structural damage may occur, such as shingles blown off roof.

55 MPH – Storm winds; trees can be uprooted and structural damage is likely.

64 MPH – Violent storm; widespread damage to structures.

74 MPH+ – Hurricane force winds.

As indicated by the guidelines above, even a minor wind storm can cause a substantial amount of damage to your home and property.  Although our firm stands ready to assist Florida property owners with any wind damage insurance claims they may have, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and the performance of a few pre-emptive steps may help to prevent headaches from wind damage down the road.