Did a hurricane, inclement weather, or another unexpected event damage your home, vehicle, or other personal property in Florida? Depending on the extent of the damage and your insurance deductible, you might need to file a property damage claim to get the money you need for repairs and replacement. Knowing when and how to file a Florida property damage claim is crucial and requires qualified legal assistance.
The Process of Filing a Property Damage Insurance Claim in Florida
No two properties or property damage events are alike, but the process of filing many property damage insurance claims is generally the same.
Here is a broad outline of the property damage claims process and what to expect when you file a claim:
- Reporting property damage. One of the first things you should do after any property damage incident is to report it to the insurance company and any other relevant parties. For example, if the damage affected company property or occurred while you were on company time, you should notify your employer. If the incident happened on someone else’s premises, you should report it to the property owner or manager. And if the property damage resulted from a car accident, you should report it to the police under the Florida Statutes. Any time you or anyone else reports an incident that affected you or your property, you should write, date, and sign the report and request a copy for your records.
- Evaluating insurance options. After you have complied with all reporting requirements, your next step will involve determining the sources and types of insurance coverage available to you. If someone else was responsible for the damage, their liability policy might need to compensate you. If you were partially at fault for the accident, the insurance company or the court could reduce the final amount you collect. You cannot seek compensation from your liability insurance policy since it pays for injuries to others or property damage when you are at fault. Depending on the circumstances, a no-fault insurance policy, such as comprehensive, collision, uninsured motorist, or underinsured motorist policy, could be available. No-fault insurance policies pay for the covered losses of policyholders, regardless of who is at fault for the damage.
- Claim preparation and filing. Once you have identified all insurance policies that apply to your situation, you can begin preparing your claim. You will need to gather extensive supporting evidence to recover compensation. This includes evidence from incident reports, photos or video footage of visible damage, eyewitness statements, expert testimony, property appraisals, repair estimates, and property ownership documents. You should also obtain copies of all policies you own to have the details on hand for reference. Certain types of evidence may be difficult to obtain or preserve, which is where the help of an attorney is often beneficial. A lawyer can help you identify crucial evidence, issue spoliation letters, and demand third-party documents to support your claim.
- The insurance investigation. Now that you have initiated your claim, you will need to cooperate with an investigation by the insurance company. Insurance adjusters are responsible for investigating claims by inspecting the damage, evaluating evidence, and requesting clarifying information. If an insurance adjuster asks you for additional evidence or details after you have filed your claim, you should do your best to fulfill their requests by providing supporting documentation and straightforward answers. However, it’s crucial to watch what you say anytime you speak to your provider. Answer questions honestly, but never volunteer details. Never estimate or guess if you do not know the answer to a question. The adjuster could take errors or inconsistencies in your story out of context and use them to deny your claim. It’s better to hire a trusted attorney to handle all communications with the insurance company at this stage in the claims process.
- Property repair or replacement. After the insurance adjuster has had an opportunity to review or appraise the property damage, you should feel free to schedule repairs or purchase replacements for damaged items. You should never begin any repair, replacement, or restoration projects before you speak to the insurance adjuster, since they will not be able to evaluate the repaired property. However, exceptions may apply if, for example, you must make immediate repairs to prevent further property damage, keep your vehicle functioning, or keep your home fit for habitation. Document everything and notify your provider if an emergency forces you to make repairs. Also, remember that while the insurance company may suggest a preferred repair provider, you are not required to take their recommendation. You have the right to choose your providers, though working with preferred parties is often faster and more convenient when making insurance claims.
- Negotiating your settlement. Once the insurance adjuster has completed their investigation, they should make you a preliminary offer detailing exactly how much they are willing to pay for your claim. In some cases, they may also issue a determination of fault and adjust their calculations. Any reasonable property damage claim offer should include compensation for repairs, restoration, replacements, and other incidental costs you incurred due to the damage. If an offer seems reasonable, you can sign a release to accept it right then and there but remember that you can’t go back and ask for more money after accepting a settlement offer. If you are not confident that an offer will cover your losses, a property damage lawyer can help you by negotiating to maximize the value of your settlement.
- Bringing your case to court. If the insurance adjuster refuses to offer a reasonable amount for your claim, you do not have to sit back and accept less than you deserve. You can take the insurance company to court and sue for fair compensation. An experienced attorney can help you determine when additional settlement talks may be unproductive and decide whether it’s in your best interest to take your claim to trial. After you file a lawsuit, your lawyer can continue trying for an out-of-court settlement until the court reaches a verdict. Most claims settle, but if a judge or jury issues a verdict, both parties must abide by the court’s decision. However, if you or the other party disagrees with the verdict, it is possible to take your case to a higher court for appeal.
Property Damage Laws and Regulations in Florida
If you know or suspect you have grounds for a property damage insurance claim or lawsuit in Florida, here are some essential laws and regulations you should know:
- Florida’s comparative negligence doctrine. Florida follows a pure comparative negligence doctrine, which allows property damage victims to collect compensation from at-fault parties, even if victims are partially at fault themselves. However, your percentage of fault will reduce the payment available to you. Some states prohibit victims from seeking compensation if they are more than 49 or 50 percent responsible for their own losses, but Florida law permits victims to collect money from other at-fault parties even if they are 99 percent at fault for those losses. And if multiple parties are responsible for damaging another person’s property, all parties are financially liable, even if the victim has not entered a claim against each party.
- The property damage statute of limitations. Under Chapter 95 of the Florida Statutes, you have four years to file any claim for property damage. This four-year window begins on the date when the damage occurred and applies to most forms of property damage, including damage from theft and vandalism. Once the four-year deadline passes, the insurance company will reject your claim. There are certain notable exceptions. Under Chapter 627 of the Florida Statutes, you only have three years to submit a claim for property damage caused by a hurricane or windstorm. If your insurance provider acts in bad faith, you have an extra year to sue for bad faith practices.
- Criminal penalties for property damage. Finally, you should know the criminal laws associated with property damage in Florida. Neither the existence nor the outcome of a criminal case will affect the outcome of your property damage claim, but these factors may serve as relevant evidence. Under Florida Statutes, a person can face criminal charges for willful or malicious destruction of another person’s property. If the property damage costs less than $1,000, perpetrators could face first or second-degree misdemeanor charges. And if the cost of a property damage incident exceeds $1,000, it could result in felony charges.
How Can a Property Damage Lawyer Help Me?
When you work with Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, for your Florida property damage claim, you can depend on our dedicated legal team to support you by:
Reviewing all insurance policies that may apply to your situation to determine the extent of the coverage available to you from your provider and others
- Conducting a thorough and independent investigation into the event to identify and collect valuable evidence in support of your property damage claim
- Evaluating the property damage scenario to determine whose insurance will pay and clarify which items the relevant insurance policies cover
- Working with property appraisers and other experts to estimate the value of any damaged, destroyed, or stolen property
- Gathering insurance documents, incident reports, repair estimates, witness statements, bank records, and other helpful documentation for your claim
- Communicating with repair contractors, property owners’ associations, insurance companies, other attorneys, and any other relevant parties on your behalf
- Make sure to file your claim promptly, properly, and in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations in the state of Florida
- Working tirelessly and negotiating aggressively to maximize your settlement value
- Taking your case to trial and representing you in court, if the insurance company refuses to pay for coverage per the terms of your policy agreement
A skilled property damage attorney could provide knowledgeable and effective representation to homeowners and business owners dealing with property damage claims in Florida. Whether you need help filing a claim or fighting a denial, it is crucial to hire an attorney with the right experience and resources to assist you.
The insurance company will be motivated to save money, which often means denying, delaying, or underpaying valid claims in Florida. Fortunately, you can fight back, and it is possible to demand and receive the full and fair compensation your policy entitles you to. Contact a property damage claim lawyer and schedule a consultation to discuss the specifics of your situation right away.