When you file an insurance claim after a hurricane or tropical storm causes damage to your home, if you are like most people, you want the process to be over as quickly as possible. You don’t want to have to go back and forth with your insurance company, and you are checking daily to see if there is a check in the mail.
Unfortunately, the insurance companies know this, and they often try to use it to their advantage. A recent article in the Sun Sentinel highlighted several instances in which homeowners’ insurance companies used policyholders’ Hurricane Irma settlement checks to disclaim liability for additional expenses. As written in the article:
“Settlement checks sent by at least three companies include language stating that accepting the check releases the companies from further obligations connected to the claim. . . .
“[One company] enclosed with checks to at least two victims of Hurricane Irma a ‘release of property damage’ that ‘does hereby . . . release, acquit and forever discharge’ the company and its officials ‘from any and all claims, actions, causes of actions, demands, rights, damages, costs, loss of service, expenses and compensation whatsoever’ stemming from the hurricane. . . [This is despite the fact that] state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. acknowledged in December that rising labor and materials costs triggered by Hurricane Irma would likely result in higher repair costs than initially estimated.”
How Can You Protect Your Legal Rights After a Damaging Storm?
The article also quotes a spokesperson for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. as saying, “As [homeowners] go through the claims and repairs process, things will come up that may require us to readdress [and reopen a] claim.” So, if you need money from your insurance company to start the rebuilding process but cannot afford to waive your right to additional coverage, what options do you have available?
First, depending upon the company that provides your homeowners’ insurance, this may not actually be an issue. Not all companies ask policyholders to waive additional coverage as a condition of receiving payment; and, if you are not being asked to waive your rights, then you can accept a check and still seek additional coverage later.
Second, if you receive a settlement check that references a “waiver” or “release” (or contains any language you do not understand), you should talk to an attorney before you accept the check. Under Florida’s insurance law, insurance companies are required to provide coverage for “amounts necessary to perform . . . repairs as work is performed and expenses are incurred,” so it is not clear that the type of language some insurance companies are using is legally-enforceable. However, certain types of companies are exempt from the law’s requirements; and, while release language included with a homeowners’ insurance settlement check may ultimately be deemed unenforceable in court, taking an insurance company to court is something that most homeowners typically want to avoid.
Contact the Broward County Insurance Claim Lawyers at Saavedra | Goodwin
If you have questions about language included with your settlement check or your rights under your insurance policy (and Florida law), we encourage you to contact us to speak with one of our insurance claim attorneys. To schedule a confidential consultation, please call (954) 767-6333 or request an appointment online today.