The aftermath of a hurricane can be a trying time for Florida residents, especially when it comes to dealing with insurance companies. As thousands of claims flood in simultaneously, policyholders often find themselves facing roadblocks and potential underpayment from insurance companies.
To shed light on this complex process and empower homeowners with the knowledge they need, Jesse Long, a distinguished lawyer at Legal Grit specializing in insurance claims cases, shares invaluable insights and expert advice.
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How Can I Safeguard My Insurance Claims After a Hurricane?
While it may be challenging to entirely avoid insurance problems in the aftermath of a hurricane, there are proactive steps you can take to mitigate potential issues. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides a comprehensive “Prepare Before Hurricane Season” guide, outlining five essential points to help homeowners safeguard their interests:
- Develop an Evacuation Plan: Prepare a well-thought-out evacuation plan that includes designated routes, emergency shelters, and communication protocols for you and your family members.
- Assemble Disaster Supplies: Stock up on necessary supplies such as non-perishable food, water, medications, flashlights, batteries, and first aid kits. Adequate preparation will ensure you can weather the storm and its aftermath.
- Get an Insurance Checkup & Document Possessions: Prioritize reviewing your insurance policy to ensure you have the appropriate coverage. Take the time to document your belongings by creating a detailed inventory, accompanied by photographs or videos. This documentation will be invaluable when filing claims.
- Create a Communication Plan: Establish a reliable communication plan with your family members and loved ones, ensuring everyone knows how to stay connected during and after a hurricane. Designate an out-of-state contact person who can serve as a central point for information.
- Strengthen Your Home: Take proactive measures to fortify your home against potential hurricane damage. Reinforce windows and doors, secure loose objects, and consider installing hurricane shutters or impact-resistant glass.
By diligently following these steps, you can significantly reduce the risk of damage, ensure preparedness for power outages or communication disruptions, and navigate the insurance claims process more effectively.
Unveiling the Difference Between Hurricane and Flood Insurance
To fully protect your property, it’s crucial to understand the distinction between hurricane insurance and flood insurance. While hurricane insurance typically covers wind-related damages, flood insurance is designed to address damages caused by storm surges and rising waters. It’s essential to carefully review your insurance policy to confirm that you are adequately covered for both types of damage.
Jesse elaborates on this distinction, stating, “When a hurricane strikes, there’s often a great deal of finger-pointing between insurance companies. Hurricane or wind insurance is usually provided by private insurance companies, while flood insurance can be obtained through either private companies or the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). This complex dynamic often leads to attempts by insurance companies to shift the responsibility of paying for damages onto the flood insurance carrier and vice versa. In the end, none of the parties involved are eager to bear the financial burden.”
Assessing the Scope of Your Insurance Coverage
As you review your insurance policy, it’s crucial to ensure that you have not only the right kind of coverage but also sufficient coverage. Jesse advises, “It’s imperative to verify that your policy has appropriate coverage policy limits. Many homeowners discover they are underinsured for certain aspects of their homes.”
For example, coverage for “other structures” may encompass screen enclosures and structures not directly attached to the main residence. However, these policies often impose limitations on coverage, potentially leaving homeowners responsible for significant costs if repairs to structures such as gazebos, docks, or screen enclosures exceed the coverage limit. Fencing is another expense that can quickly add up. If the policy for other structures covers only a few thousand dollars, the insurance company will not be liable for costs exceeding that threshold.
Determining Adequate Insurance Coverage
To ensure you have the necessary insurance coverage, Jesse emphasizes the importance of accurately estimating the cost of rebuilding your home in the event of a total loss. He adds, “If the value of your home has increased over time, you’ll need to adjust your insurance coverage accordingly. The same principle applies to personal property insurance. Regularly reviewing your policy and consulting with your insurance broker will help ensure that your coverage aligns with any changes in home value or personal belongings.”
Determining the appropriate level of coverage requires careful consideration and ongoing evaluation. By actively engaging with your insurance provider, you can ensure that you’re adequately protected and financially prepared for any potential losses.
Navigating Insurance Policy Pitfalls
Not all insurance policies are created equal, and it’s essential to be aware of certain clauses that may be disadvantageous to policyholders. Jesse cautions against purchasing insurance policies that include a “right-to-repair” clause, stating, “These types of policies grant the insurance company the authority to choose contractors to make repairs in your home. Denying repairs could give the insurance company leverage to offer less compensation. Additionally, policies with roof surfacing payment schedules typically do not fully reimburse you for the total replacement cost of your roof.”
Understanding the terms and conditions of your policy is crucial to ensure you have maximum protection and a fair claims process. Be sure to review your policy thoroughly, consult with your insurance broker, and ask questions to clarify any potential pitfalls.
The Role of Legal Representation in Insurance Claims
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for insurance companies to underpay or even deny legitimate claims. As Jesse points out, “Insurance companies have professionals working for them to protect their interests, putting policyholders at a disadvantage if they don’t have their own professional advocate to safeguard their rights and ensure their policy is fully enforced.”
By engaging the services of a reputable lawyer, homeowners can level the playing field and ensure that their insurance claims receive the attention and fair evaluation they deserve. An experienced attorney can navigate the complexities of the claims process, advocate for maximum compensation, and protect the policyholder’s interests throughout the proceedings.
Signs You Need Legal Assistance
Recognizing the need for legal representation is vital to protecting your rights during the insurance claims process. Jesse advises, “Ideally, Legal Grit should be your first point of contact after a hurricane. While most policyholders may not initially anticipate requiring legal assistance, a clear sign that legal representation is necessary is when your insurance company keeps switching adjusters—an occurrence commonly referred to as the ‘adjuster shuffle.’ This usually indicates that the insurance company is attempting to buy time and potentially downplay the extent of the claim.”
If you find yourself facing such circumstances, don’t hesitate to seek legal advice. Acting swiftly and enlisting the support of experienced attorneys can significantly impact the outcome of your claim.
Legal Grit: A Collaborative Approach to Hurricane Insurance Cases
Legal Grit, despite being a prominent firm, prides itself on operating as a close-knit organization with a client-centric focus. Jesse explains, “Our firm is boutique, our culture fosters collaboration and teamwork among lawyers. This enables us to provide our clients with the highest level of representation and personalized attention.”
By leveraging the collective expertise and diverse skill sets within the firm, Legal Grit ensures that clients receive comprehensive and tailored legal support for their hurricane insurance cases.
The Process: From Claim to Resolution
At Legal Grit, the process for a hurricane insurance case begins with open communication and understanding. Jesse outlines the steps involved, stating, “When you reach out to us, one of our attorneys will listen to your story. We will then evaluate your claim, determining the cost required to restore your property and make you whole. We communicate this valuation to the insurance company, challenging their assessment. Additionally, we can connect you with estimators and professional engineers to assess any structural damage.”
Legal Grit strives to give the insurance company an opportunity to fulfill their obligations and settle the claim fairly. However, if the insurance company fails to meet its responsibilities, Legal Grit is legally obliged to serve notice of an impending lawsuit, offering the insurance company a second chance to act accordingly. Depending on their response, Legal Grit will work closely with you to determine the most appropriate course of action.
Selecting the Right Insurance Company
When shopping for insurance policies, it’s crucial to exercise diligence and select a reputable and reliable insurance provider. Jesse offers valuable guidance, cautioning against surplus lines insurers. He explains, “Surplus lines insurers are subject to less regulatory oversight by the state, which can result in policy clauses that are unfavorable to policyholders.”
To determine if an insurance company falls into this category, visit the Office of Insurance Regulation website and conduct a search. The site will indicate whether the insurer is classified as a surplus lines insurer. Additionally, Jesse recommends working with an insurance broker who is trustworthy and knowledgeable, as they can provide crucial information and guidance in selecting the right insurance policy.