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.

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.

 

An essential part of hurricane preparation is having a plan for your family long before a storm arrives.  Once the storm arrives, it is too late to start thinking about contingencies and making plans for your family’s safety.  Your basic plan can be re-used each year, but make sure to review your plan each year and make any updates necessary.

Although every family’s hurricane preparation plan will be different, here are some recommendations to help better prepare for a storm:

– Know ahead of time if you will evacuate and if so, where you will go if you do evacuate.  Be familiar with evacuation routes and stay connected to local news broadcasts for the latest tropical storm information.

– Have supplies ready to go, or if you plan to stay and weather the storm, make sure your home is well stocked with enough hurricane supplies to get you through the storm and the aftermath.

– If you are going to evacuate, make sure you have any important papers – like home insurance documents, medical insurance cards and prescription medications.

– Make sure you have plenty of cash on hand and that your car has a full tank of gas.  If the power goes out for any extended period of time, you may not be able to access ATMs or re-fill your car’s gas tank.

– Make sure to pack all necessary clothes for the time you believe you may be away from your home, as well has personal hygiene products, cell phone chargers, and a list of any important telephone numbers you think you may need.

– Make sure that all of your family members have a designated contact person (outside the area affected by the storm) to make contact with after the storm.

It should only take a few minutes to make a hurricane preparation plan, but having a plan will provide peace of mind once the storm hits and may help protect the safety of your family.  If you have any questions about how to protect your family or property from storm damage, please feel free to contact us and we will do our best to assist you and to answer any questions you may have.

 

Despite no major storms or hurricanes hitting Florida since 2005, Florida property insurance rates have continue to skyrocket over the past few years – with no end in sight.  Shockingly, a recent AP report showed that Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation has approved more than 100 rate hikes per year since 2009.  Where is the money going – surely not for claims!

The biggest “expense” an insurance company faces is the cost of reinsurance.  Simply stated, reinsurance is an insurance product that an insurance company buys for itself to offset any claims it must pay.  If an insurance company has a large number of claims in a given year, the insurance company submits a claim to its reinsurance company for reimbursement of the amount paid in claims.  The only difference between a policy holder’s relationship with his insurance company and the relationship an insurance company has with its reinsurer is…..the insurance company most likely owns the reinsurance company as well!!!  With this cozy relationship, an insurance company can jack up the rates that it must pay itself – er, I mean, its reinsurer – and thereby create an artificial “hardship”.  The insurance company then squeals to the media and to the legislature that it can’t make any money in Florida unless they are allowed to further increase rates.  Clearly, since an insurance company can set its own expenses (due to the fact that it can manipulate the money it pays to itself as a “cost”), it will never show a profit from its Florida operations!  The Sarasota Herald Tribune wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning article on this concept in 2010.

Where does this leave the individual homeowner who is struggling to pay his ever-increasing property insurance premiums?  Until our representatives in Tallahassee are willing to stand up to the insurance companies and their lobbyists, all Floridians will have to just wait and see what this year’s hurricane season has in store for Florida.  Unfortunately, history has shown us that – whether a storm comes this year or not – we will be facing higher insurance premiums either way.  You know – because of those “reinsurance premiums”….  

 

Last fall, Hurricane Sandy caused devastating damage to the eastern seaboard – yet the National Hurricane Center did not issue any sort of hurricane warning to the people north of North Carolina.  It is not that the National Hurricane Center was negligent in any way, it is just that by the time Sandy reached the more northern coastlines, Sandy’s maximum sustained winds had died down below the 74 mile per hour threshold in order to be considered a hurricane.  Since Sandy was no longer a hurricane, the storm did not qualify under the then existing standards to issue a hurricane warning to those in the path of the storm.  Clearly, even though the storm did not officially qualify as a hurricane and was “only” a tropical storm upon landfall, Sandy still brought catastrophic damage and caused billions of dollars of destroyed property.

The National Hurricane Center is working to fix this problem.  The Center has now added the following phrase to its definition of Hurricane Warning – “Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical storm force winds.”  Hopefully this expanded definition will better allow the National Hurricane Center to better warn those people in harm’s way and to help mitigate the catastrophic property losses arising out of such storms – hurricane or not.