Common Types of Hurricane DamageHurricane damage most commonly affects properties along the Atlantic coastline and the Gulf of Mexico. When hurricanes make landfall, they bring intense winds, heavy rainfall, lightning, and sometimes even tornadoes. Any of these extreme weather events can extensively damage whatever property is in its wake. The most common types of hurricane-related damage include:
- Wind damage: Hurricane-force gales of wind can exceed 150 miles per hour, tearing through roofs, destroying landscaping, and sending outdoor furniture flying.
- Flooding: Pouring rain from hurricanes can saturate the ground to the point where it can no longer absorb the water, causing floods that damage foundations, rot wooden structures, and ruin flooring materials.
- Water intrusion: Even when water does not flood a property, excess moisture can eat away at its structure. Heavy rainfall and roof damage from hurricanes allow water to seep into properties, destroying wood frames, hardwood floors, and carpeting. Excess moisture also creates the perfect conditions for mold to thrive, resulting in extensive and costly damage.
- Lightning damage: Lightning strikes accompany many hurricanes and severe storms, and these catastrophic events can cause considerable property damage. A lightning strike can punch a hole through your property's roof and start fires, which can engulf and destroy the structure.
- Vehicle damage: Gales of wind can snap tree branches and even topple entire trees onto vehicles, smashing frames and shattering windows. In extreme cases, the storm surge from a hurricane may even sweep vehicles away in unrelenting flood waters.
Filing an Insurance Claim for Hurricane DamageHurricanes are among the most devastating natural disasters, causing billions of dollars in property damage each year. Many properties sustain damage due to high winds, heavy rainfall, hail, and flooding in the wake of hurricanes that come ashore. These extreme weather events destroy property exteriors, tear roofs apart, and ruin foundations, enough damage to bankrupt the average property owner. Fortunately, property insurance exists to help owners and businesses weather these literal and proverbial storms. If a hurricane damages your insured home or commercial property, you should be able to file a claim with your insurance provider and receive compensation for these losses. However, claiming the insurance benefits your policy owes you after a hurricane is often far easier than actually receiving them. Take the following steps to file an insurance claim after a hurricane damages or destroys your property:
Report the Damage to Your ProviderIf you have a homeowners', renters', or commercial insurance policy, your agreement likely stipulates that you must promptly notify your provider of covered events. Many policies have specific reporting deadlines, so check all requirements that apply to you as a policyholder to avoid mistakes that could hurt your claim. If you fail to notify your provider of the hurricane damage within the specified timeline, the insurance company could deny your claim for noncompliance. Be sure to report property damage to every insurance provider who may be liable for your claim, even if you are uncertain whether they will cover it. If you rent a home, apartment, or commercial property, it's also a good idea to notify the landlord or property manager.
Review All Applicable Insurance PoliciesAnytime your property sustains damage covered under an insurance policy, you should get a copy of the policy and read it carefully. Many insurance providers require you to take specific actions as you prepare and file your claim, and your policy should provide clear instructions to that effect. If you come across provisions or language in your insurance policy that seems vague, confusing, or contradictory, consider asking a public insurance adjuster or property damage lawyer to review it with you. The last thing you need is for a preventable filing error to get in the way of the compensation you need to repair or replace your damaged property, so make sure you understand precisely what the insurance company requires.
Take Stock of the Hurricane DamageThe insurance company will only pay for property damage included as part of your claim, so you will need to take a thorough inventory of all real and personal property damaged by the hurricane. This includes structural damage to your property's roof, frame, exterior, and foundation and any damage to your land or the belongings you stored on or inside the real property. As you survey the damage, write down every affected structure and item you see in a list or spreadsheet. Take photos or video footage of the initial damage before trying to clean it up or repair anything. Once you have sufficient evidence of all aspects of the hurricane damage, gather the documentation in a single, secure location. Keep backups if you can.
Complete Emergency Repairs as NeededYou may feel understandably tempted to begin repairs as soon as possible. Still, it's best to avoid starting large projects before the insurance company sends an adjuster to assess the damage. In the meantime, however, the hurricane may have damaged your property so badly that you must take care of certain repairs to prevent additional damage. Many insurance policies explicitly require policyholders to take reasonable steps to address property damage when it could result in more losses, such as a burst pipe that will continue flooding your property until you shut off the water source. If you fail to take steps to mitigate the damage in such events, the insurance company may deny your claim. Keep the receipts for any emergency repairs you pay for out-of-pocket so that your insurer can reimburse you later.
Fill Out the Paperwork for Your ClaimOnce you have taken stock of the hurricane damage and patched up any problem areas, you can begin filing your claim. The insurance company may require you to complete various forms and paperwork, such as the Sworn Proof of Loss (SPOL) form. A SPOL is a sworn, signed, and notarized declaration of all the real and personal property for which you seek to claim benefits. Commercial property owners must often complete specialized paperwork to claim benefits for business-related hurricane damage losses. A skilled hurricane damage lawyer can review your policy information to identify which forms you'll need to submit a claim and the types of evidence you should provide when you file.
Cooperate with the Insurance AdjusterNow that you have filed the requisite paperwork, the insurance company should assign an adjuster to your claim, typically within a few days of the filing. Insurance adjusters act on behalf of carriers, investigating property damage, reviewing evidence, and deciding whether to deny or accept claims. If your property sustained considerable damage, the adjuster might want to examine it in person, so be ready to show them around and provide access as necessary. Watch what you say to the insurance adjuster whenever you speak with them. They will listen intently to your statements, looking for a reason to avoid paying the full value of your claim and save their employer money.
Seek Repair Estimates for the DamageAfter the insurance adjuster has reviewed the damage to your property, they will want to know how much repairs will cost before they agree to cover anything. You will usually need to provide your insurance company with two or more estimates of all repair costs from qualified professionals. If the insurance adjuster thinks the estimates you submit are unrealistic, they may seek an independent evaluation from a preferred appraiser before paying your claim. In some cases, the insurance company will expect you to pay for upfront repair expenses and then seek reimbursement after the fact. If you end up paying for anything out of pocket, always keep track of the receipts or invoices so you can get a full refund as part of your claim.
Negotiate a Fair Settlement for the ClaimIf a repair company or contractor that fixes your property damage bills your insurance provider directly, you may not need to worry about settlement negotiations. However, if you paid for any repairs out-of-pocket or wish to claim compensation for other losses, you may need to submit a claim for the exact dollar amount you seek. If the insurance company agrees to cover the amount, you can accept their offer and deposit the check. But if your provider disputes your claim, you may need to sit through one or several rounds of settlement talks to recover the full amount they owe you. An experienced property damage lawyer can negotiate a fair hurricane property damage settlement on your behalf so that you don't have to worry about this step.
File a Lawsuit, If NecessaryMost insurance claims end in a settlement, but sometimes, providers refuse to negotiate in good faith. If your carrier does not approve your valid hurricane damage claim after multiple attempts to find a compromise, you may have no option but to file a property damage lawsuit with the help of an attorney. Your lawyer will most likely continue settlement negotiations behind the scenes while prepping for trial, and most lawsuits settle well before the court ever renders a verdict. However, a good attorney will not hesitate to take a case to trial if it's the best way to get their client the money they're owed.
How Can a Hurricane Property Damage Attorney Help Me?Hurricanes are among the most devastating natural disasters and often cause extensive damage to homes, apartment buildings, commercial structures, and other properties. Extensive damage leads to costly repairs and high claim values, which make insurance providers reluctant to pay in full. If a hurricane has damaged your property, you should retain the services of an experienced property damage lawyer. You can count on an attorney to help you by:
- Examining your residential or commercial insurance policy to determine whether and to what extent it covers property damage stemming from hurricanes
- Assessing the scope of the hurricane damage to identify all items that your policy will cover and gather helpful evidence in support of your insurance claim
- Working with repair crews, property damage appraisers, meteorologists, and other experts who can speak to the effects and costs of the hurricane damage
- Gathering copies of relevant insurance policies, weather reports, repair estimates, financial statements, and other types of hard-to-obtain evidence
- Managing essential documents, details, and deadlines for your claim and then preparing and submitting error-free paperwork when it's time to file
- Communicating with other parties on your behalf, including your insurance provider, general contractors, and other attorneys
- Negotiating aggressively to demand full and fair compensation for your hurricane damage insurance claim
- Pursuing a lawsuit and providing effective representation in court if your insurer forces you to go to trial to get the money they owe you