When your insurance company refuses to offer you a fair settlement for your property damage or denies your claim, an experienced Florida property damage attorney can help you fight to receive the maximum value for your insurance claim. The experienced Florida property damage lawyers at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman serve clients throughout Florida from their offices in Sarasota, New Port Richey, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg. Contact us today at 833-552-7274 for a free consultation to discuss the details of your property damage and learn how we might assist you.
Bad weather, accidents, vandalism and a host of other things can cause damage to the real estate and other property you own. Depending on the extent of property damage you experience, you might experience a significant financial burden in the aftermath of damage. As a Florida resident, your property might have been damaged by 2018’s Hurricane Michael or 2017’s Hurricane Irma, each causing tens of billions in property damage.
You spend money each month or year to purchase commercial property insurance, homeowner’s insurance, and other types of property insurance to prevent losses related to storm damage and other damage. Yet, insurance companies don’t stay in business by paying out on every claim that comes their way. In fact, you can bet your insurance company will go out of their way to pay the least amount possible on your property damage claim.
Types of Property Damage Cases
Several different types of property damage in Florida might lead you to file a claim in which your insurance company isn’t paying out to the level you expect, if at all. Some examples of common types of loss you might experience in Florida include property damage from
- Hurricanes, storms, and floods
- Wind and tornadoes
- Water and mold
- Smoke and fire
- Traffic accidents
- Vandalism and theft
- Insurance agent negligence or bad faith
Different Types of Water Damage and Insurance
If you recently experienced water damage in your home or business for the first time in Florida, you might be dismayed to find out water damage caused by flooding is not covered in your homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policy. Typically, water damage covered by your homeowner’s policy might include damage from bad plumbing or a sudden pipe burst.
Yet coverage still depends on whether water damage was gradual and a result of negligent maintenance or wear and tear. The exclusion of flood damage in homeowners’ policies is industry standard, which is why the United States government offers flood insurance for purchase through a national program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Depending on exactly where you live, your landlord or mortgage company might require that you purchase flood insurance. You might have also chosen to purchase it on your own. If you have flood damage, you must file a claim with your insurance agent. Even though the U.S. government provides the insurance, it will still deny claims.
This means you must be diligent about keeping good records, taking photos, and cooperating with your adjuster. In the event your flood damage claim is denied, you can also go through the FEMA appeals process or choose to file a lawsuit. You only have one year to file a lawsuit against FEMA or the insurer after your denial—and once you file a lawsuit, the appeals process ends.
Water damage claims are one of the most commonly filed property damage claims and one of the most complex. Coverage depends on the source of the water and the cause of the damage, and even when it isn’t your fault, you still might not be covered. It’s in your best interest to consult with an experienced property damage attorney to determine the best path for your situation.
What to do Before a Property Damage Claim
Creating a detailed inventory of your property is extremely important when it comes to making a claim later. Your inventory documentation will help you to prove the value of your property, prove what property you had before the disaster, and will speed up the claims process in general. Make sure that you keep your inventory up-to-date so that any new purchases, like new jewelry or a new TV, are included in the inventory.
To create this inventory, start by taking photos and videos of all your belongings and of your entire property. Think about what items you would need replaced if they were destroyed and start there. Things like expensive electronics, meaningful items, and other costly things should be included.
You should also write down a description, including year, make, and model number for valuable items if possible.
Be sure to also get extensive photos and videos of the outside and inside of your property to later prove its condition.
Personal Property Covered by Insurance
The most common types of personal property damage occur to commercial buildings and residential homes, but property can include a wide variety of items such as:
- Cars and trucks
- Motorcycles and scooters
- Yachts, boats, and personal watercraft
- Electronics such as televisions, stereos, and computers
- Musical Instruments
- Artwork including paintings and sculptures
Some personal property items like cars, motorcycles, and boats have separate insurance policies, which are relatively simple. Yet, homeowner’s insurance is notoriously complex, and has many exclusions and caveats regarding coverage. For example, a detached garage or a privacy fence might be excluded under your homeowners’ policy, even though they are on your property.
Mandatory Property Damage Liability (PDL) Coverage for Florida Drivers
Property damage in Florida that occurs from a traffic accident deserves special explanation because Florida drivers who register a vehicle must carry a minimum of $10,000 in property damage liability coverage. You might assume that because Florida is a no-fault state that requires drivers to carry personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, that if involved in a car accident, you file a claim under your own PDL policy.
In fact, the opposite is true. If you are injured, you file a PIP claim, but property damage to your vehicle is the responsibility of the at-fault driver. You most likely still need to report the damage to your auto insurance carrier to comply with contractual obligations about accident reporting, but ultimately, your insurance carrier should pursue the at-fault driver.
In the event a driver causes a severe accident, the damage will quickly exceed the $10,000 minimum requirement. In this case, you will have to take legal action against the driver to recover your losses. The same applies if a driver crashes into a fence, mailbox, your home, your business, or any other property.
Legal Obligations of Insurance Companies in Florida
Florida law requires insurance companies to engage in the fair settlement of claims. To protect their bottom line, some insurance companies push the boundaries of these requirements, and others clearly go over the line. Regardless of the type of property damage claim you’ve made, insurance carriers’ legal obligations towards policyholders include:
- To properly investigate all claims based on adopted standards
- To factually represent parts of a policy related to a specific claim
- To acknowledge and take prompt action once a policyholder files a claim
- To conduct investigations based on the available information before denying claims
- To communicate in writing the investigation of a claim within 30 days of receiving documents proving the loss
- To provide a reasonable explanation to the policyholder for denying a claim or offering a lower settlement
- To promptly notify the policyholder when the carrier needs additional information to process a claim
- To explain the nature and reasons for any requested additional information
- To pay undisputed amounts to policyholders within 90 days after a property damage claim
Insurance carriers who don’t follow the above guidelines are acting in bad faith, which can entitle claimants to restitution and financial damages if a court rules in favor of the claimant. Yet, insurance companies also have legitimate, albeit sometimes dubious, reasons for partially or fully denying property damage claims. An experienced property damage lawyer can help you get the payout you deserve and avoid some of the common reasons for claim denial.
Reasons Your Claim Might Be Denied
If your insurance company denies your property damage claim, it doesn’t mean they are acting in bad faith. Most carriers will, however, use whatever justification they can find to avoid payouts. Some common reasons your claim might be denied, or you might not receive the maximum payout, include:
- Failure to pay your premiums. Even if you regularly pay your premiums, a short lapse of a week or less can result in a claim denial. Something as simple as an expired debit or credit card not going through or a bank returning an automatic payment for lack of funds can cause a lapse in coverage and give your insurance company justification for denying your property damage claim.
- Filing your claim late. Whether filing a claim under your auto insurance, homeowners’ policy, or a commercial property policy, your contract has specific requirements related to notifying your carrier of damage and to file a claim. Hiring a property damage attorney to help you navigate through the claims process can ensure you meet all required deadlines in your policy.
- Exclusion of coverage. Insurance companies are notorious for denying property damage claims made under homeowners’ insurance policies. Some common situations specific to Florida residents include flood damage, hurricane damage, construction damage, and sinkhole damage. Some homeowners’ and business owners’ policies do not cover intentional property damage, leaving owners to deal with the financial aftermath of vandalism. Even if owners are lucky enough to learn law enforcement has caught the vandal(s), it’s unlikely the owner will be able to collect much from the criminal.
- Inadequate proof of damage. When you file a property damage claim, you must provide your insurer with proof of loss, which often includes a complete inventory of items that suffered damage. If your carrier feels you did meet their proof of loss requirements, they will deny your claim, at least partially.
- False claims. If your insurance carrier believes you have filed a questionable claim, they have the legal right to deny the claim based on non-disclosure.
How a Property Damage Attorney Can Help
If your claim has been denied or you have been offered a low settlement after your property has been damaged, you might feel hopeless. You are not. An experienced property damage attorney can help maximize your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve to repair or replace your personal property. Here are some of the specific ways an attorney can help you with your claim:
- Contract knowledge. Insurance policies are long and complex agreements full of legalese that the average person doesn’t easily understand. A qualified lawyer can decipher and translate your auto, homeowners’, commercial property, or other personal property policies so you have a clear understanding of the terms, especially regarding exclusions and declarations.
- Handling communications. Insurance adjusters are trained to elicit statements during their claims investigations that will devalue a claim or offer justification for denial. When you let a skilled property damage attorney handle communications with your insurance carrier, he or she can protect you from saying something that could harm the outcome of your case.
- Negotiation. To avoid large payouts, insurance companies sometimes offer early settlements and low settlements to entice policyholders to take the money and run. You should consider these settlement offers as a jumping off point for negotiations. Experienced property damage lawyers are used to dealing with nefarious insurance companies and know how to make demands, negotiate, and get results.
- Litigation. If you need to sue a third-party for property damage or litigate your insurance claim based on the notion that your carrier is acting in bad faith, a qualified attorney can help you. Not only will your lawyer investigate the circumstances of your damage and claim, but they will uncover facts to support your case and build a strong offense. When settlement isn’t an option, your attorney will advocate and fight for you in the courtroom to help you get the compensation you deserve for your damaged property.
Contact an Experienced Florida Property Damage Lawyer
After spending a great deal of the money you work hard for on insurance premiums, you deserve a proper payout on your policy when you file a claim for property damage. Additionally, if a third party caused you property damage, you shouldn’t have to shoulder the financial burden for replacement or repair. When insurance companies deny your claims for property damage or refuse to pay the amount you deserve, you need to seek legal representation. After reviewing your case and the insurance policy in question, an attorney can help you determine the best path forward for your individual circumstances.
Dolman Law Group
800 N Belcher Rd
Clearwater, FL 33765
Phone: (727) 451-6900