As victims of Hurricane Irma start to pick up the pieces in Florida, they may face the complex world of insurance claims. Having handled more than 5,500 insurance claims on behalf of clients, family and friends, here are answers to some common issues and questions that arise after a hurricane. Insurance adjusters handle claims for a living and can easily trick you into taking a low settlement if you don’t know your rights.
What Damage May Be Covered After Hurricane Irma?
The answers depend on what insurance you have and what property is damaged.
Automobile – Damage to your car may be covered either by your Comprehensive coverage or Collision coverage, depending on the cause of the damage. Generally, if a tree falls on your car, your Comprehensive coverage should apply. You may be entitled to get the vehicle repaired, to a rental car, to money for the loss of use of your vehicle, and for diminished value of your car. Some of the damages you could recover depends on the language of your policy and the coverages you selected.
Damage to Your Home – The insurance that applies to pay for damage to your home may depend on the type of damage you have and the cause of the damage. If your home was damaged by flooding, your flood insurance may apply. If your home was damaged by wind or flying debris, your homeowner’s insurance should apply. Sometimes the language in your policy helps to determine what is covered.
Landscaping Damage – Like damage to your home, it depends on the cause. If flooding caused the damage, then your flood insurance may apply. If damage was caused by wind or debris, then your homeowner insurance may apply.
Damage to Outside Property – If you sustained damage to a shed, play set, grill, or other outside property, you may be entitled to reimbursement or replacement. The coverage depends on whether the damage was caused by flooding or wind/debris.
Homeowner Property Disputes
Oftentimes, homeowner insurance companies try to minimize payment of damages that you may be entitled to under your policy. Remember that their goal is often to pay as little as possible, which in turn can help maximize profits of the insurance company. You are a “claimant”, that is, someone who is making a claim against your policy. The less they pay you, the more they save.
Insurance companies will often first investigate a claim to make sure you are even covered. They may look at all of the policy exclusions to figure out what they don’t have to pay, or may start looking for policy benefit or coverage defenses. One common defense we see after a major event like a hurricane is the flood versus windstorm damage issue. If your policy excludes flood damage, the homeowner insurance company may try to deny the claim if they can argue that the damage was caused by water and not wind or flying debris.
Disputes may also arise over the value of damaged items. I suggest that you try to itemize everything you had damaged, and come up with a value for each item that you would accept. Find support for this, like comparable items for sale online. This may make it easier to come to an agreement over what the claim should settled for.
What Can I Claim Under My Homeowner Policy?
Your policy is typically fairly general as to what it covers. Some of the damages you may be entitled to:
- Living expenses while you are staying outside of the house
- Money for spoiled food
- Gas back and forth to your hotel or where you are staying
- Hotel expenses
- Roof repairs or replacement of entire roof
- Painting of interior house if any walls were damaged
- Replacement of flooring if floors sustained any damage
- Cleaning services to clean the home after construction is completed
- Replacement value of damages personal property
- Mold remediation services
- Fence repair costs
- Hurricane shutter replacement if damaged
There are other claims you may be entitled to make under your policy. If you had any damage, you should speak with a hurricane insurance attorney before settling your claim.
Be Careful When Hiring Independent Adjusters
After a major hurricane, you may see many advertisements for independent insurance adjusters. These people typically make a living charging you a percentage of your claim and helping to write an estimate of your damages. The problem is that if the claim doesn’t settle and you need to hire an attorney, you may then have to pay both the adjuster and attorney a percentage of the claim, leaving little left for you.
If you have to make a hurricane damage claim, you may consider hiring an attorney first before an independent adjuster and have someone on your side from the beginning. While you may pay a percentage of the claim, you would likely have done so anyway with an independent adjuster and the attorney has the ability to file a lawsuit if necessary.
There are times where an independent adjuster may be helpful in the processing of your claim, but that should be considered on a case by case basis.
Attorneys’ Fees May Be Paid By The Insurance Company
One Florida law allows judges to award you attorneys’ fees and costs, paid by the insurance company. The attorneys’ fee award may help to pay all or some of your total fees or costs. If you have an independent adjuster, the law does not apply to them. This is another reason to choose an insurance attorney over an independent adjuster.
These are some basic tips to get started with a Hurricane Irma insurance claim or other homeowner claim. If you have any questions about your claim, feel free to call a Florida insurance attorney at the Law Offices of Jason Turchin today at 800-337-7755. We can handle hurricane insurance claims in Miami, Key West, Ft. Lauderdale, Naples, Tampa, Ft. Myers, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and throughout Monroe, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Broward, Brevard, Miami-Dade, and Collier County.