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Now that Hurricane Irma has marched through the entire length of Florida, those affected by the storm must now face perhaps an even more stressful event – the pursuit of a property damage claim against their homeowners insurance company.  Although it may take several weeks for property owners to fully realize the damage caused to their property, they need to move quickly with a claim against their property insurance company.  
Since the focus has long been on preparing for Irma’s high winds and water, it is understandably difficult to now turn your focus to the language of your insurance policy and the numerous exclusions contained therein.  It is also eye-opening to realize that the insurance company’s representatives do not always fully investigate the scope of your damage and will often leave a lot of damage uncompensated.  
As important as your pre-storm preparation was, you must now focus on obtaining the most compensation possible from your insurance company to help put your property (and life!) back together again.  The steps you take immediately after the storm are crucial with regard to your ability to adequately present a claim with your insurance company for the damage to your property.  As you begin your insurance claim presentation process, you may want to keep the following in mind:
The Safety of Your Family.  This may seem obvious, buy it needs to remain your overriding priority after the storm.  Do not get caught up in documenting your damages or any other claim activity until later the safety of your family is assured.  
Document Your Damage:  In order to best receive reimbursement for your lost or damaged items, you will need to prove to the insurance company what property you had and the pre-storm condition of same.  Hopefully, you took pictures and video of the pre-storm condition of your property.  With the advent of cell phone cameras and other video devices, it is easier than ever to memorialize the damage caused by the storm and to easily provide same to your insurance carrier.
 
Contact Your Insurance Company.  As soon as communications allow, you should immediately place your insurance company on notice of your loss.  The most obvious reason for this is so that the sooner your place your claim, the sooner you can start the process.  If you wait to place your claim, you may be forced to wait behind others that placed their claims before you.  
A not so obvious reason to place your claim quickly is that many insurance policies now mandate that you provide them with “immediate” notice of a loss.  If you wait to place your claim and do not give the insurance company “immediate” notice of your loss, the insurance company may claim to have been “prejudiced” by your delayed reporting and deny your claim.  Insurance company lawyers have created quite a cottage industry for themselves by defending against the payment of your claim based upon an alleged “late notice” defense.  
Point Out All Damage to the Insurance Representative.  After the receipt of your claim, an insurance company representative will come and inspect the damage to your home.  It is crucially important that you point out any and all damage to your property so that the damage can be documented.  Don’t worry if you miss something, as your claim is not limited to only the damage you point out on this initial visit, but the more damage you can document to the insurance company, the higher the insurer’s initial settlement offer may be.
Remember, the insurance company representative  does not work for you, but instead works for the insurance company.  Even though the insurance adjuster may be friendly and professional, he is not an advocate for the full payment of your loss.  The adjuster is employed solely by the insurance company and, whether consciously or unconsciously, his goal will be to provide the least amount of coverage for your damage.
 
Flood vs. Wind Damage.  Since Hurricane Irma caused damage both by high winds and rising water, your homeowners insurance company may try to deny coverage for some of your damage by claiming the damage was caused by water and not wind.  In general, your homeowners insurance policy covers damage caused by wind, and your flood insurance policy covers damage caused by rising water.  The dispute over whether damage is covered by flood or homeowners insurance has generated mountains of litigation and is discussed in detail in a previous post
Examine your Insurance Policy for Additional Coverages.  The insurance company representatives may not point out all the benefits provided by your homeowners insurance policy.  For instance, there may be additional insurance coverage for items such as any alternative living arrangements while repairs are being done, food that may have spoiled in your refrigerator, the cost of bringing your home up to current building codes, and other such non-obvious coverages.
Remember, if you are not satisfied with the treatment, coverage, or payment provided to you by your insurance company, it is advisable to contact an attorney or other professional who has experience with handling property insurance claims.  Most of these professionals work on a contingency fee basis and offer a free initial consultation, so there are no out of pocket costs to obtain help with your storm damage insurance claim.
 

When dealing with a hurricane or tropical storm, surviving the weather event is often only the beginning of the battle.  The insurance company’s constant nit-picking of your claimed losses can drive you bonkers – especially while you are trying to put the rest of your life back together.  Then, just when you think you may have worked out a reasonable resolution of your claim, the insurance representative says, “Oh, and by the way, we are going to apply a hurricane deductible to your loss amount.”

The Named Storm Deductible or Hurricane Deductible can take a huge bite out of your ultimate insurance claim recovery.  Although some policies may vary, most homeowner insurance policies in Florida provide for a 10% deductible for hurricane or named storm claims.  The real kicker though, is that this deductible is calculated as 10% of your POLICY amount, not of your claim amount.  For example, let’s say you have a $500,000 policy of homeowner’s insurance, and then have the misfortune of incurring a $75,000 hurricane damage loss.  After the application of the $50,000 deductible (10% of $500,000), the insurance company would only be obligated to pay you $25,000 for your loss.  Good thing everybody always keeps a spare $50k around for just this type of emergency – right?

Dealing with the application of a hurricane deductible is another reason why you should never try to handle a catastrophic insurance loss without professional assistance.  Whether you choose an insurance claim attorney or a public adjuster, either professional would handle the property insurance claim on a contingency fee basis and would only get paid if they bettered your recovery.  Should you have any sort of questions whatsoever about either your insurance policy or the claims process, please feel free to contact our office anytime.

Even as the internet is full of Hurricane Harvey damage pictures, another storm is quickly approaching Florida from the eastern Atlantic.  Tropical Storm Irma – soon to be Hurricane Irma – is projected to be a major storm and may make landfall along Florida’s coastline.  The time is now to stop looking at flood pictures in Texas and realize that we could be in the same situation – or worse – if a major storm hit our shores.

Please take a moment to review my previous post on the crucial steps you need to take in order to protect your family during the storm.  Also, you can click here to download a detailed Hurricane Supply Checklist.  Make sure you obtain all or as many of these items as possible, because you may have to fend for yourself and your family for an extended period after the storm.

If you don’t already have adequate property insurance coverage, then it is mostly likely too late for you.  Sorry, but it is not like we didn’t warn you.  If you do have a solid policy of homeowners insurance, then at least you know that you will be able to seek recovery from your insurance carrier for any property loss you may incur.

If you have any questions regarding your property insurance coverage or need help with your claim, please either contact us online or call our office at (888) 898-5297.

do-i-really-need-flood-insuranceMost people believe that when they buy homeowner’s or commercial property insurance that they will be covered for any damage that may occur to their property.  Unfortunately, as many people have painfully learned during recent flooding events, the normal policy of homeowner’s property insurance does NOT provide coverage for damage caused by “rising water” or flood.  This realization often comes too late for property owners and only after catastrophic damage has occurred to their property due to a flooding event.

The usual policy of homeowner’s insurance will only cover storm related water damage if it is caused by “wind blown” water, as opposed to “rising” water.  A good example of “wind blown” water would be water that comes through a broken window or a roof opening caused by the storm.  On the other hand, damage caused by the buildup of rain water which eventually enters the structure and causes flooding-type damage would not be covered under the standard policy of homeowner’s insurance.

As can be easily imagined, disputes often arise between property owners and their insurance companies over whether damage was caused by “rising” water as opposed to “wind blown” water.  The property insurance company, obviously, would like to prove that the damage is from a flood event – and thereby not covered under its insurance policy – whereas the property owner would advocate that the damage was the result of water entering through an opening in the structure and thereby covered under the policy.

The best and safest course of action is for all property owners to obtain both property insurance and flood insurance – regardless of whether or not their structure is located in a flood zone.  If you ever find yourself in a dispute with your property insurance company as to whether your damage is covered under your insurance policy, it is best to seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in property insurance claim matters.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.