Few things provide as much peace of mind as the security of a home. If your home suffers damage, this can quickly disrupt this sense of emotional and financial security. Managing property repairs while also working to secure the recovery you deserve is often a time-consuming and stressful process.
Working with an experienced property damage lawyer will reduce the stress and complications associated with securing recovery for damage to your property, especially if your insurance carrier or other responsible party is denying you coverage. Contact Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman for a free consultation on your property damage case.
Common Types of Property Damage
Property damage can occur in a variety of ways, including from natural causes which are often environmental, faulty workmanship or construction defects, and human error. Certain natural causes are more common in different regions of the United States. For example, hurricane damage is most common in Florida while earthquake damage is much more likely to occur on the west coast. The Midwest is more susceptible to damage from tornadoes.
The Insurance Information Institute compiled data on property damage insurance claims between 2014 and 2018. In this time, the most common property damage claims were for damage from wind, hail, water damage, and freezing. The most expensive claims were related to fire and lightning.
To put the frequency of claims into perspective, consider the following statistics:
- About one in 20 insured homes will be the subject of a claim each year;
- Approximately one in 40 insured homes has a claim related to wind or hail each year; and
- About one in 50 insured homes has a claim related to water damage or freezing each year
Residential properties are not the only ones running the risk of property damage. Commercial property is also at risk of property damage with fire, storm damage, and cracked pipes comprising 6.6 percent of small business insurance claims.
Who Is Responsible for Property Damage?
Unless you intentionally caused damage to your property or do not have homeowner’s insurance, another party or insurance provider may bear responsibility for at least a portion of the cost of the damage.
Potentially responsible parties include:
- Trespasser: Any unauthorized person on your property is responsible for the damage they cause.
- Contractor or subcontractor: Individuals performing work on your property have an obligation to provide quality workmanship and to avoid substandard work or defects. If a contractor, subcontractor, or other person working on your property fails to live up to this standard, they are responsible for immediate or future damage caused by their failure.
- Local government: Governmental entities, including cities and counties, have an obligation to maintain public structures and property to avoid damage. For example, if the city fails to maintain a greenbelt, they are responsible for damage caused by falling branches. Most governmental entities have forms available for submitting property damage claims.
- Insurance company: Your insurance carrier’s responsibility will be subject to the terms of your homeowner’s insurance policy and will be handled by submitting a claim through the insurance company.
A lawyer will help you assess the circumstances surrounding the damage to determine which individual or entity is responsible. After you determine responsibility, take an inventory of the losses and costs associated with the damage.
Consider the costs of the following in your inventory:
- Repairs to the physical structures;
- Repair of any unattached structures like fences, sheds, or a detached garage;
- Interior repairs, such as replacing water damaged floors or smoke damaged wallpaper; and
- Damaged or destroyed personal items
Finally, you will need to seek recovery from the responsible party. If a third party is responsible, you will need to file a lawsuit. If you are pursuing recovery through a government entity or an insurance provider, follow the designated process, including any timing requirements, for submitting a claim.
How Much Should I Expect to Recover From My Property Damage Claim?
Several factors will determine your recovery. First, you should not expect to recover damages beyond the actual cost of repairing your property and replacing destroyed personal items. Second, if you are seeking recovery from a third party, your ability to recover will depend on the strength of evidence of their responsibility. Finally, if you are recovering through your insurance company, recovery will be determined by the limits of your policy as well as your ability to provide proof of loss.
To understand your potential recovery, review the terms of your homeowner’s insurance policy.
Standard coverage generally includes:
- Damage to the house: This section of the policy will dictate the limits on recovery for the house and any attached structures such as a porch
- Other structures: If your property has non-attached structures like a fence or shed, there will be a recovery limit separate from damage to the house
- Personal property: Loss of or damage to items in your home are covered as personal property
- Additional living expenses: Certain types of damage will make your home unlivable while repairs occur, and most policies provide coverage for alternative living arrangements under these circumstances
- Comprehensive personal liability: If a third party is injured or has any other claim arising from their time on your property, it will fall under personal liability coverage
- Medical expenses: Medical expense coverage applies to anyone injured on the property and has caps for each person per accident.
Most homeowner policies exclude damages resulting from certain events including floods, earthquakes, landslides, sinkholes, animal infestation, or mold. If you live in an area where these events are common, consider securing additional coverage to ensure sufficient coverage. You could also consider securing an umbrella insurance policy. Be sure to research any restrictions on such a policy to make sure it meets your additional coverage needs.
Your homeowner’s policy will require payment of a regular insurance premium. In addition to a premium payment, most policies require the homeowner to take some financial responsibility for property damage. This financial responsibility is called a deductible and will be reflected in the policy as either a flat monetary amount or a percentage of the total cost of repair.
For example, if your policy indicates a $2,000 deductible, this means you will be required to pay the first $2,000 associated with the repair but the insurance company will cover any additional costs up to your maximum coverage. If the deductible is represented as a percentage, you will be responsible for that percentage of the total cost.
The cost of homeowner’s insurance varies from state-to-state and largely reflects the risk taken on by the insurance provider in that state. The more likely an insurance provider will have to pay out for property damage, the higher the likely cost of insurance coverage. Oklahoma, Kansas, Florida, and Arkansas are the most expensive states for homeowner’s insurance.
What if My Insurance Company Won’t Pay My Property Damage Claim?
If you are lucky, your insurance provider will agree with your inventory of damages and agree to cover costs up to your insurance limits. Unfortunately, this is not always how things work out. Insurance companies are motivated to settle a claim for the least amount possible, which often results in denial of coverage or settlement offers for less than the requested claim amount.
Common reasons for denial of a claim are:
- Failure to pay premiums. You must make timely payment of your insurance premiums to keep your policy in good standing. Failure to make a payment will result in a lapse of coverage. Always make sure that your payment method stays up-to-date and all premium payments are made on time.
- Untimely filing. Follow all procedures for filing an insurance claim including the time limit for filing. Any failure to follow documented claim procedures could result in a denial.
- Coverage exclusions: As noted above, certain types of damage are excluded from your policy. Your insurance provider will reject coverage for any damages relating to excluded events.
- Insufficient proof of damage. An insurance provider is authorized to request proof of loss before approving a property damage claim. Make sure you hold on to documentation of all costs associated with repairs as well as an inventory of damaged or destroyed personal property.
- Disputed costs. You and your insurer may disagree about the type, extent, or quality of work required to repair your home after suffering from property damage.
- Failure to mitigate. A homeowner must take action to prevent further damage after the initial damaging event. An insurer will not take responsibility for damages caused by the owner’s failure to mitigate additional damage. For example, if a fallen tree branch breaks a window, you should take immediate action to cover the window and prevent water damage.
- High-risk location. If your property is in a known-risk area, the insurer may attempt to claim you assumed the risk of damage from likely natural causes such as storms or hurricanes.
- Failure to comply with building codes. If the damage is caused or heightened by your home’s failure to comply with local building codes, the insurance company is likely to deny coverage based on the failure.
- Pre-existing damage. An insurer will refuse to cover damage that existed before the damage-causing event. For example, if your house already had mold, the insurance company will not pay for mold damage after a flood.
There are certainly many valid reasons for denying a policyholder’s insurance claim, but you should analyze any denial carefully with your attorney. Additionally, certain actions by an insurance company may violate state and federal law.
Discuss any of the following actions with your lawyer to determine if the insurance company violates its legal obligations:
- Misrepresentation of facts or policy provisions
- Failure to acknowledge or respond to claimant communications within a reasonable time
- Failure to perform a reasonable investigation before responding to a claim
- Failure to promptly settle claims where liability as a way to influence settlement on another portion of the claim
- Failure to provide a reasonable explanation for any denial of coverage
Any insurance provider who fails to comply with federal and state requirements is acting in bad faith. These actions open the insurance company up to monetary penalties and legal challenges by the homeowner. Certain states allow a specific cause of action based on insurance bad faith while other states require the wronged policyholder to bring a breach of contract claim against the insurer.
Your lawyer will work with you to analyze the insurance provider’s actions to determine if they rise to the level of bad faith. If so, they can advise on the appropriate action based on your state’s laws. Even if the insurer’s actions don’t indicate bad faith, it is still possible their denial of coverage is inappropriate based on the terms of your policy. Your attorney can manage these difficult conversations with the insurance carrier.
Contact a Property Damage Lawyer Today
One of the most helpful steps you can take if you are struggling to recover for property damage is to contact an experienced property damage lawyer. An experienced property damage attorney will assist you throughout the recovery process, including assessing liability, preparing an inventory of the property damage, filing claims or lawsuits, interpreting your homeowner’s insurance policy, communicating with the insurance company, preparing legal documents, and assessing settlement offers.
Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman understands the stress associated with damage to your home and is committed to securing each client the recovery they deserve. One of the most critical components to a successful attorney and client relationship is open lines of communication. For this reason, each client receives the personal cell phone number and email address of the attorney they are working with. Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman are well-respected in the insurance industry, and we keep our commitment to injured homeowners clear by never representing insurance companies.
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