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.