Hurricane season 2015 is just around the corner. Even if the nine-year hurricane dry-spell continues for another year, hurricanes are not the only reason to make sure personal or business property is protected against damage.
Previously, our Fort Lauderdale hurricane damage attorneys explained how to make sure property owners address the most important considerations of buying insurance coverage for their property. Now, it is time to discuss the steps you can take now to best present your claims to your insurance company after a storm.
At Saavedra | Goodwin, our attorneys have represented condominium associations, homeowners associations, commercial property owners, long-term airport tenants, business owners and residential property owners for years in presenting their insurance claims to their insurance companies following covered losses.
Sometimes these claims are resolved without a lawsuit, and sometimes our attorneys have to file suit and take the insurance company all the way to trial, obtain a jury verdict and then collect payment from the insurance companies.
We have learned from these battles and want to share with you some simple-sounding (but not so obvious) issues that you may not otherwise think twice about so that you can put yourself in the best position to obtain a quick payment on your claim after a hurricane or other casualty.
ISSUE #1: Does your insurance policy identify the proper person or entity as the “named insured”? In the context of residential property, the “named insured” should match the titled property owner.
In situations where property is held in the name of a corporation or a land trust or a limited liability company, or when insurance is procured by one party for the benefit of another, it becomes crucial that the named insured is properly identified as the true owner of the property. Insurers will only make payments to true parties in interest and if the “named insured” is not the property owner, your claim can be delayed for a very long time or outright denied.
ISSUE #2: How do you prove what you had and the condition it was in before it was damaged by the storm? Take pictures. Take videos. Document your belongings both before and after the storm. On the outside of the house, take pictures showing every side of your house or building. Don’t forget outdoor fixtures such as sheds, pools, fences, outdoor kitchens, landscaping and air conditioning compressors.
Inside, take at least two or three photos per room from different angles. Take pictures of the “make and model” stickers on all your major appliances and air handlers. Make sure the photos are digital and store them on a flash drive in a weatherproof box along with a copy of your insurance policy (or upload all documents to the cloud). After the storm, survey your property and jot down all observable damage and take more photos of the damaged property!
ISSUE #3: How long should you wait before contacting the insurance company? DO NOT WAIT! Immediately contact your insurer following a storm. Document all of your communications in a paper or digital journal. Every policy is different and each policy may have slightly different timeframes for notice, etc. For any and all telephone communications with the insurance company, make sure to get the name of who you speak to and ask him or her what they want for you to do. They will likely give you an email address to communicate through.
Send a confirming email to them with your understanding of their instructions to you. Keep track of dates, times and substance of all phone calls. In your first conversation, ask the adjuster to send you a “Proof of Loss” form (this is the form you will use to officially “submit” your claim). Almost all policies require it and the insurance company’s obligation to pay is not triggered until they receive it. Our attorneys can assist you in filling out the Proof of Loss forms, including one for each coverage part (building, personal property, loss of use, business interruption, etc.).
ISSUE #4: Why do I need the assistance of an attorney when the insurance adjuster was friendly on the phone? THE ADJUSTER IS NOT YOUR FRIEND! It is obviously important to cooperate with all of the insurance company’s requests for information and access to your property for inspection of the damage. However, the adjuster is looking out only for the insurance company. It is his/her job to pay you as little as possible under your policy. You need someone fighting for you in these situations in order to protect your interests.
ISSUE #5: What should I do right after the storm to protect my property? After any loss, especially a windstorm, you will need to come out of pocket in an amount equal to your deductible. Use this money towards repairing leaks, drying up water or cleaning debris off your property. Use it in any way that protects or preserves your property.
Your insurer will ask you for proof that you took these mitigating measures so keep your receipts for materials and labor. With that in mind, select a deductible that you can comfortably come out of pocket for. If your deductible is too high, you may have trouble paying it when you have to. If it is too low, then you are wasting money on premiums that are too high.
ISSUE #6: Understand your coverage. Unless you have purchased “Replacement Cost” coverage, your insurer will only reimburse you for the fair market value or “actual cash value” (“ACV”) of your damaged items. Your five (5) year old flat screen TV might have been $2,500 when you bought it. Right now, it’s fair market value (i.e., what you could sell it for) may be only $200. Replacing it with a new one would cost you $1,000.
If you do not have Replacement Cost Coverage, then you’ll only get $200. With Replacement Cost coverage, you get $1,000.00. Also, you’ll likely have to replace the item first before the insurance company will pay you the entire Replacement Cost.
Even with Thorough Preparation, Claim Conflicts can Arise
The most detailed documentation is no guarantee that an insurance carrier will not reduce or deny a claim. Do not assume you have to take a loss until you consult with an experienced hurricane damage lawyer who can explain all available legal options. Call us at (954) 767-6333 or use our convenient online contact form to learn how we can help.