With Hurricane Irma threatening Florida (and Hurricane Jose right behind her), I’m sure many people in the Sunshine State are reviewing their homeowner’s insurance policies. Although it’s certainly not the time to make any adjustments to that contract (since most require a waiting period anyway), it is time to put together your plan of action in anticipation of a making a claim for a covered loss.
Unfortunately, hurricanes often leave more than just destruction in their wake. After the floodwaters recede, the scammers and breaching parties will come pouring in; dishonest contractors will begin taking deposits for repairs they’ll never execute; and shoddy assignment of benefits will leave unfortunate people in dangerous, half-destroyed homes with no recourse available. The human dynamic that can occur in the wake of a disaster can be devastating. Especially when multiple catastrophes occur within a short period of time, such as the Hurricane Katrina, Rita, and Wilma trifecta that devastated Florida in 2004.
Insurance companies will go to extraordinary lengths in order to lower or lengthen the payout of valid insurance claims. Depending on the severity of the disaster, these maneuvers are often a last-ditch effort to keep profits high, as carriers slow down payouts so the claims don’t exceed the premium.
This shady business model often works until two massive disasters occur back to back–which is exactly what might happen with Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Jose both heading towards Florida.
When this happens, claimants will often need legal representation to make sure their claim gets paid in a timely manner, and for the correct amount.
Prepare Your Property
As Walter Anderson put it, “Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.” Luckily for you, there are steps you can take now, before the damage occurs, in order to expedite your efforts to rebuild.
The first may seem like common sense, but you would be surprised by the laissez-faire attitude some owners take with their property. There are many steps you can take to secure your items of value before a storm, such as shuttering windows, properly storing outdoor items (i.e. grills, patio furniture, etc.), and moving certain items away from windows and off the ground.
Protecting your vehicles is also important. They are designed to withstand constant weather, but not many civilian cars and boats are meant to brave a hurricane without worry. Parking your car inside a garage, or in a parking garage (the higher the better) can ensure you have a way to get to work once the storm passes. If you don’t have a garage available, consider parking your car in an area where a falling tree can’t reach it.
Of course, boats are a different story. A lot of Floridians have watercraft, and who could blame them? Florida is a boater’s paradise: always warm, plenty of fish, and thousands of miles of shoreline to go around. When a storm continues to build strength like Hurricane Irma, it’s imperative to take certain steps to protect your boat.
Keep in mind, most insurance policies requires that once a storm has become a named storm your vessel must be removed from its storage in a boat lift or dock and taken to a dry facility. If you own a boat trailer, you must take your boat inland to safe and higher ground. This is not always an option, as many larger boats don’t have the luxury of being put on a trailer and moved to a secure location. In addition, there is often not enough space in hurricane-rated marinas to house all of Florida’s larger yachts.
In non-hurricane rated marinas, strong winds stir up the surrounding waters causing these large boats to slam into one another or the docks they are tied to. In most cases minor damage is incurred; however, in the extreme winds of a hurricane, boats are susceptible to extensive fiberglass damage, as well as, punctures to their hull which can result in a total loss and sinking of a vessel.
Prepare Your Claim
This is a step many people tend to overlook under the pressures of an impending hurricane. Let’s be honest, even the best preparations may fail. Impact windows are great, except when that oak tree splits in half over your garage. It’s important to remember that no matter how fortified you are, hurricanes are no joke. They carry with them a risk of heavy rains, severe winds, and tornadoes. And that’s not even taking into account the storm surge/flooding that can occur. Water will be coming from above, below, and all around. Don’t just prepare for the storm, prepare for potential property loss as well.
Do this by documenting everything! Just about everyone has a smart phone with the ability to take high quality pictures and videos. Make sure you take pictures or videos of your valuables, your home, your car, and your boat. If you want it covered, you better prove not only ownership, but also the condition your property was maintained in before the damage or loss. The more pictures or video you can provide the better. Also make sure you do a second walkthrough and back up the pictures; this can easily be done by saving the content to the cloud or emailing it to yourself or a friend for a backup. When it comes to 1st party insurance litigation, if you can’t prove it, you didn’t own it.
Hurricane Irma Video Walk-Through
- Walk through your home while recording video
- Go room to room
- Documents things like TVs, computers, jewelry, art, furniture, etc.
- Be sure to include any serial numbers and receipts you have for those items
For the irreplaceable or sentimental items, it is best that you put them in a watertight containers such as zip-top bags, plastic containers, or whatever you have readily available. You can also store items in your dishwasher. If you think about it, it held water in for years; chances are it will hold water out. This a great place for a family photos and other documents you may not be able to bring with you in case of an evacuation.
Some things cannot be replaced, even with the best insurance coverage. That is why you should consider bringing certain items with you in case of evacuation, assuming such behavior doesn’t put your own life in jeopardy. This might include passports, birth certificates, family heirlooms, expensive or sentimental jewelry, baby books, etc. Although some of these things are replaceable, they may come in handy while evacuating.
Review Your Insurance Policy
Take note of your coverage limits, your coverage types, and your claims filing process. Most policies have specific procedures and time-frames for you to file a claim. It’s critical that you know these procedures so that you can get organized. In the event of a massive catastrophe, everyone will be struggling. There will be no mercy for those who miss the deadlines, so pay attention to the deadlines and procedures of your policy.
Prepare for Litigation
After the shutters, the marina, the flashlights, the water, the sandbags, the video, the waterproofing, weatherproofing, and possibly even the emergency evacuation, inevitably, the storm will pass. What do you do then? It’s time to give Dolman Law group a call. Evaluate your losses, file your claim, and prepare for the claim to be denied. Sure, there is a chance the insurance company will give you every cent you rightfully claimed, but it’s not likely. Even if the hurricane caused some pigs to fly…so what, when you get short-changed, call an experienced attorney to hold the insurance company to their end of the contract. It won’t be a quick and easy process, so you need to prepare to weather the storm just like you’ve done before. But just like your shutters, your generator, and that can of spam, the right attorney can make sure you make it through process with as much ease as possible.
Dolman Law Group
The aggressive attorneys at Dolman Law Group understand litigation, know Florida laws, and know how insurance companies operate. In the event of post-storm losses and issues with your insurance coverage, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re your neighbors, and we’re here to help you rebuild.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions. You can reach us in one of these 4 ways:
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, Florida 33765