Everyone, regardless of where they’re from or what language they speak, is particularly vulnerable following a hurricane like Irma. It’s natural to feel helpless when so many things are out of your control. From where your family will sleep to finding your next meal, you may have to rely on your community and the kindness of strangers to have your basic needs met.
Unfortunately, in the aftermath of disasters like Hurricanes Irma and Michael, not everyone is dedicated to selflessly helping effected people recover. There will always be people who seek to take advantage and profit from a situation, as well as companies who are more concerned with their bottom line than the health, safety and comfort of the communities they serve.
It can be argued that attorneys in affected areas have a moral duty to help people in these situations. Attorneys have a unique skillset and the knowledge necessary to help people who are struggling in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.
Insurance companies make a profit for their investors when they receive more premiums than they pay out in claims. That means insurance companies always have an incentive to pay as little as possible to policy holders when they file claims for property damage. After any natural disaster, especially hurricanes, insurance companies strive to minimize the compensation they have to pay their policy holders.
Insurance policies are complex, with a lot of fine print. For example, if your home suffers water damage due to your water heater’s tank bursting, the damage will likely be covered. But if the water damage is the result of natural flooding, your insurance policy will likely not cover it unless you have purchased separate flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.
That doesn’t stop some insurance professionals from being misleading in how they sell their products, though. You may ask them, “Does my policy cover water damage?” and they can answer, “Yes, it does,” without specifying the type of damage. Policies can also be hazy in their wording, and claims adjusters are not infallible. The last thing you want as a home or car owner is an adjuster mistakenly saying your damage isn’t covered when it should be.
Without being an insurance professional or a lawyer, it can be hard for the average policyholder to know whether certain damage should or shouldn’t be covered. Things are complicated further when independent or inexperienced claims adjusters are brought in from out of the area to meet the high demand resulting from so many people filing claims at the same time. People can make mistakes, including claims adjusters, and this is especially true when they are rushed and unfamiliar with the intricacies of policies and the types of damage hurricanes inflict.
An attorney can help hold insurance companies accountable. They can review your policies and the damage your property suffered to provide clarity regarding what should and should not be covered. A civil litigation attorney can help their client dispute claim denials, or fight for a client who feels they were misled about their coverage when they were purchasing their insurance policy.
Experienced lawyers can also help people who are taken advantage of by “fly by night” contractors. These storm-chasing contractors flock to areas subjected to severe natural disasters, often to take advantage of desperate homeowners who want to get their lives back to normal but have to wait for local contracting professionals to get to them. These fly by night contractors have a reputation for overcharging, doing substandard or sometimes even unsafe repairs, then disappearing once the work is done with no way to hold them accountable for their negligence.
Lawyers can also be invaluable in helping affected families access resources, such as housing vouchers, provided by organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
There’s also the issue of getting other government assistance, such as Social Security or food stamps, when the normal avenues through which people obtain these things is temporarily disrupted.
If you were affected by a hurricane, you likely have a lot of other questions an attorney may be able to help answer.
Do you have to continue paying rent for a damaged apartment you can no longer inhabit? If you have a court date, what happens if you miss it due to the effects of a hurricane? If you’re on probation and can’t contact your probation officer, what is going to happen? Will there be consequences if you share custody of your children and have to temporarily evacuate to a location away from the other parent?
These are just a handful of the potential legal questions you may have following a hurricane. Attorneys, thankfully, have answers to many of these inquiries, and can provide valuable peace of mind if you’re experiencing even more stress because of the unknown.
If your home or vehicle was damaged during Hurricanes Michael, Irma or any residual damage from other storms, or you have legal questions that are keeping you up at night, don’t hesitate to contact an attorney. They can help you with everything from getting the compensation you deserve after a claim has been denied to helping you understand how Hurricane Irma impacts other legal proceedings in your life.