"A hurricane caused damage to my home. What do I do?" Hurricanes are an unfortunate reality of living in Florida. With that in mind, it's important to remember some basic advice for dealing with your insurance claim for the damages hurricanes cause.
Deductibles & Coverages
It's important to know what kind of a deductible you have on your policy to determine whether you will have a covered loss. If you have a $10,000 deductible, and you lose some roof tiles and screens for your patio, you know right away that insurance is not going to be a consideration. Additionally, not all windstorm policies will cover damage from flooding. It will need to be determined whether the damage is due to actual windstorm or flooding. Hopefully you have both types of policies.
Only Licensed and Insured Contractors
Assuming you have significant damage, make sure you are hiring contractors who are licensed and insured in the state of Florida. Get their license numbers and look them up! There are many unscrupulous, unlicensed contractors that will gladly take your money, do a poor job, and you will have no recourse through your own insurance company. To see if your contractor is licensed in Florida, you can look them up on Florida's Department of Business & Professional Regulation website at http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/
Timely Notify Your Insurance Company
Before you authorize repairs to your home, make sure your insurance company is aware of your claim and of your intentions. An insured needs to give the insurance company a reasonable amount of time to approve the claim.
Mitigate (Minimize) Your Damages
You have a duty to mitigate (minimize) your damages. This tip works in conjunction with number 3. You should notify your insurance company of your damage, but you can't put your head in the sand and not do anything to lessen the damage to your home. If you have a giant portion of your roof exposed from the storm damage, it goes without saying that you should get a tarp on that roof as soon as possible. You don't need an authorization from an insurance company to do that. Inarguably, that would be a situation where a homeowner/insured must act quickly to prevent more damage.
Insurance Adjusters Do NOT Work for You
The adjuster sent out by your insurance company works for the insurance company. If you are not satisfied with the amount of money the insurance company is offering you, you should consider hiring a reputable public adjuster. At this point, it would be worthwhile to contact and attorney and get an opinion. The attorney may have a recommendation of a public adjuster for you. Again, research is important. Don't just hire any adjuster. For that matter, don't just hire any attorney either. A quick Google search online to see their reputations are in the community will serve you well.
If Claim is Denied, Talk to a Lawyer
If you get a claim denial from your insurance company, as stated in number 5, at that point, you should get a legal opinion.
Insurance Company Can Be Made to Pay Your Attorney's Fees
When you hire an attorney for an insurance claim for damage from a hurricane or windstorm, it's called a "first party" claim. That means you are suing your insurance company directly. It also means that your attorney can get paid attorney's fees and costs directly by the the insurance company, leaving you with the full settlement amount in many circumstances. Attorneys who handle these cases work on a "contingency" basis. That means, they only get paid if they get money for you. If they are unsuccessful, you will not pay anything to them. Your risk is minimal.
You have a duty to cooperate with your insurance company. If they want to inspect the damage, let them. At some point, your insurance company may request an "Examination Under Oath," which is sort of like a deposition. A court reporter will be present, and you will be asked questions under oath about your claim. The insurance company has the right to do this. But you also have rights. It is strongly recommended that you get an attorney involved at this point to help you, to ensure that you are not taken advantage of. Keep in mind that the person asking you questions on behalf of the insurance company will be an attorney. Shouldn't you have your own?
Document, Document, Document!
Documentation is important. If your insurance company is dragging their feet, you want to document how many times you have called them, what you told them, and what you requested. If there is a situation where you need to get a repair right away, and the insurance company is not acting reasonable in that they are not approving the repair, you want to show that you did everything possibly to notify them, and that they were not acting in good faith. Document your phone calls, print out your emails, and keep all of the documentation that the insurance company sends you as well. When dealing with insurance companies, a paper trail goes a long way. Take photographs. In this day and age, if you see damage, snap a picture with your cell phone. Document the repairs as they are being made. You never know what might come in handy if your case needs to be litigated, or even go to trial.
Be Weary of Your Insurance Company. They Aren't Your Friends.
Don't trust your insurance company to do the right thing. Don't put your head in the sand and assume they will act in your best interests. The large amount of attorneys that handle these types of claims demonstrates that quite often, these companies do not do what's right for the insured. If you have any doubts, call an attorney if for no other reason than just to have peace of mind. Being "street smart" and paying attention throughout your claim process will serve you well, and help you in the long run if your case needs to go to trial.
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