Here are some commonly asked questions regarding hurricane damage and filing your claims. If you cannot find an answer here, please reach out to our office and we will be happy to assist you.
This is an especially common question for Florida residents, especially if their property has recently experienced damage caused by Hurricane Irma. When insurance companies are dealing with thousands of potential claims due to a natural disaster affecting large portions of the state, they’re likely struggling to keep up. There are, however, some timelines insurance companies must follow when resolving a customer’s claim.
If you filed your claim electronically or by mail, a live insurance company representative must contact you within 14 days. This rule applies to all communications you have with your insurance company.
One of your first priorities should be compiling and filing a list of damaged property with your insurance company. This is usually referred to as a proof of loss form. Once your insurance provider receives your proof of loss list, they are required to begin their claim investigation within 10 days.
Unfortunately, the insurance company has 90 days following your claim’s submission to inform you of your claim’s outcome and pay you.1
The size of your claim will likely have a significant impact on the timeline. If your home and most of your possessions within it are a total loss, the insurance company will likely take as close to the maximum amount of time as possible. They have a monetary interest to minimize the amount they have to pay you on your claim settlement, so the insurance claims adjusters will likely take their time investigating ways to dispute your claim. Examples of possible disputes include challenging the valuation of some of your possessions or trying to find an alternative damage method that isn’t covered by your policy.
Some policyholders have their claims denied for unclear or inaccurate reasons, in which case the insurance company may be acting in bad faith. If you’re concerned that your claim is taking too long or your insurance company denies your hurricane damage or property claim, it may be in your best interest to contact an attorney.
Before you communicate with the insurance company, you should first analyze your insurance policy carefully. Remember, part of the insurance company adjuster’s job is to make sure the company spends as little as possible on your claim, which means when they’re asking you questions and going over your proof of loss documentation, they will be on the lookout for any cause of damage that’s excluded under your policy. This is especially true after a hurricane such as Irma. The specifics of hurricane, water and wind damage are complicated. The way you describe damage or how it occurred could be used against you when your insurance company resolves your claim.
Documentation is also hugely important for property damage claims. Photographs are a must-have when you’re compiling your claim and proof of loss list. The more detailed you can make your list, the better. Include brand names and models of items as well as their age and serial number, if possible. Take photographs that are time stamped or time stamp each one individually.
Having records of past repairs or home inspections can also be useful during property damage negotiations with insurance companies. If an insurance company claims that some of the damage was preexisting but you have evidence that it wasn’t there until after the hurricane occurred, your chances of payment will likely be better.
It’s often in a policyholder’s best interest to speak with an attorney before giving statements to the insurance company on large claims. You’re likely stressed and not at your best immediately following an accident or when you’re trying to put your life back together after a hurricane. Saying the wrong thing during that sworn statement or recorded call could give the claims adjuster a reason to deny your claim or pay you less than you deserve. It’s often preferable to communicate in writing so you can review and edit your official statement before sending.
If you want your claim paid in full, you will definitely need to attend an EUO if the insurance company requests it and if it’s a stated requirement in your policy. But there are things you should be aware of before you agree. This meeting, which often occurs at the offices of an insurance company’s attorneys, is intimidating for most policyholders. That intimidation works to the insurer’s advantage. If you go to this meeting alone, it will likely just be you, an investigator working for the insurance company, the insurance company’s attorney and a court reporter. If you’re untrained in these types of situations, it’s all-too-easy to go into this harrowing meeting, nervously say the wrong thing and jeopardize your claim.
For example, in the case De Leon v. GREAT AMERICAN ASSUR. CO., 78 So. 3d 585 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2011), the insured went into an EUO and was subjected to “impertinent and improper questions” for seven hours. Thankfully, the insured told them he was getting an attorney himself and would see the company in court, eventually winning an appeal of his claim denial.
Although you are required to cooperate, that doesn’t mean you have to play entirely by their rules. If they schedule your EUO during your work hours or at some other purposefully inconvenient time, you should reply to them stating that although you’re willing to attend, you need to reschedule. You have a right to an attorney at this meeting if you choose to go in with backup, which you should also tell them when you respond to their EUO request.
If you hire an attorney for assistance filing a property damage or Hurricane Irma claim, an attorney may charge you a percentage of your eventual settlement. Ideally, you will be able to maximize your claim’s settlement with an attorney’s assistance, meaning even though you’re paying them a percentage, you’re still coming out ahead because the insurance company wasn’t able to deny or underpay your claim.
If you need to hire an attorney after your insurance provider has underpaid, unfairly disputed or outright denied your claim, the insurance company themselves may be forced to pay your attorney’s fees should you prevail in court.2
In Florida, hurricane coverage goes into effect as soon as the National Hurricane Center of the National Weather Service begins a hurricane watch or issues a hurricane warning in Florida.3
Despite the wording that hurricane coverage is specifically for wind damage, it is possible to have significantly more than just exterior wind damage covered. If the exterior wind damage – whether from broken windows, siding or roof damage – allowed water and wind to enter your residence and cause interior damage to your home and possessions, those damages will also be considered covered under hurricane or wind damage.
Storm surge and flooding damage that weren’t a direct result of wind damage to your home will likely not be covered by your policy. Storm surge and flood damage is covered by Federal Flood Insurance, if you have a policy.
If there’s a debate between you and your insurer about the source of damage and whether or not it should be covered, it’s likely in your best interest to speak with an attorney.