MAKING INSURANCE CLAIMS IN THE AFTERMATH OF HURRICANE HARVEY
This article addresses the subject of making insurance claims in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Most people across the Texas Gulf Coast have ad to deal with the ravages of Hurricane Harvey. I'm back in my office now and, while my house still does not have power, my office does. So now that I have access to a computer that works, let me take a moment to address the question going around the internet-"Do I have to give written notice of my property damage claim to my homeowners insurance carrier before September 1st?" The correct answer is that it depends on what kind of claim you are making. There are two kinds of claims--Windstorm claims and Flood Claims.
WINDSTORM CLAIMSWINDSTORM CLAIMS involve the wind ripping a hole in your roof (or ripping shingles off of your roof) or busting out walls or windows, or, wind otherwise damaging your home such as where the wind blows a tree down and it slams into your roof, opening a hole in your roof and letting the rain pour in. Those Windstorm claims are covered under your regular homeowners insurance policy (or, if you live very near the Texas Coast, then it may be covered by a Texas Windstorm Insurance Association TWIA policy). An example of a Windstorm claim would be a tornado--but it doesn't have to be tornado winds--any damage caused by wind comes under your windstorm insurance.
FLOOD CLAIMSFLOOD CLAIMS involve damage to your home caused by rising flood waters. Flood claims are covered under a separate insurance policy--a flood insurance policy.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 DEADLINE?SO WHAT ABOUT THE SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 DEADLINE? Answer: you only need to worry about filing a written claim with your insurance carrier before September 1st if you are making a WINDSTORM CLAIM. You should send written notice of your Harvey windstorm claim by fax and certified mail, or better yet, overnight mail or Federal Express (postmarked before September 1, 2017) and you should save your proof of fax and proof of mailing or delivery. If you just have a flood claim, then you don't need to worry about filing a flood claim before September 1, 2017.
WHY DO I NEED TO FILE MY HURRICANE HARVEY WINDSTORM CLAIM BEFORE SEPTEMBER 1, 2017?WHY DO I NEED TO FILE MY HURRICANE HARVEY WINDSTORM CLAIM BEFORE SEPTEMBER 1, 2017? Because earlier this year the Texas Legislature decided that Texas insurance policyholders no longer need as much protection as we currently have in the event you have a windstorm claim. Specifically, the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate REDUCED the penalties that insurance companies have to pay when they improperly delay payment of your windstorm claim. So, YES! If you have a WINDSTORM CLAIM, then, in order to get the protection that Texas policyholders currently have against their insurance carriers, you do need to make a WRITTEN notice of your WINDSTORM claim to your homeowners or wind insurance carrier before September 1, 2017 if you don't want to lose some of the helpful legal protections you currently have.
WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU MISS THE SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 LAW CHANGE DATE FOR FILING YOUR WINDSTORM CLAIM?WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU MISS THE SEPTEMBER 1, 2017 LAW CHANGE DATE FOR FILING YOUR WINDSTORM CLAIM? ANSWER: File it anyway! The insurance company still has a duty to review, acknowledge, process and evaluate your claim. The primary difference is that if they delay payment, the penalties which the insurance company faces are greatly reduced--which gives them less incentive to promptly process your claim.
BUT WHAT IF YOU ONLY HAVE A FLOOD CLAIM (and no windstorm claim)?WHAT IF YOU ONLY HAVE A FLOOD CLAIM (and no windstorm claim)? If you just have a flood claim, and you have no windstorm claim, you do NOT need to worry about the September 1st deadline because Flood claims are covered by Federal Law (not State Law) and so the Texas Legislature's decision to reduce policyholder protections on September 1st does NOT apply to FLOOD Claims. Note: It is still a good idea to promptly file your flood claim, but the September 1st law change doesn't impact flood claims.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO IF YOU HAVE A FLOOD CLAIM?WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO IF YOU HAVE A FLOOD CLAIM? First: Call your insurance carriers to report your claims, flood carrier, auto carrier (if you lost your vehicle) and homeowner's carrier. These are the things you should do while waiting for the insurance adjuster:
1. Take photos of everything, if it has a serial number take a picture of that as well. If you plan to dispose of it, take a picture. You cannot possibly take too many pictures. For contents, you need to keep a line item list of contents damaged, with the name of the product, quantity, brand, purchase price and age. The better the details, the more they will pay.
2. Take a wide view of all sides of the outside of your home. Take photos of every room of your house, and be sure to take a picture of any water line that shows the height of the water in your home. Take wide views of the room as well as close ups. Photograph the a/c and heating units and the serial numbers.
3. Once you start demolition, document what you do and take pictures. Generally, if the water did not exceed 3.5' in your home, flood insurance will only cover replacing the first 4' of your Sheetrock.
4. If you hire laborers for cash, get them to give you a written receipt. Keep all receipts and ask for written estimates from any contractors and receipts for which you make payment. Fraudulent contractors are not uncommon, they take part of your money and disappear. Be careful.
5. For a flood claim, you only have sixty days from the date your home floods to file a sworn proof of loss. It must be supported by estimates and pictures to support what you claim. It is possible that FEMA will grant an extension for filing the proof of loss. It happened in Ike and Sandy, but it hasn't happened yet in Harvey.
6. WARNING: You should be exceptionally careful with Public Adjusters. Some are not qualified to handle a flood claim and may cause endless issues for you. Do not hire a Public Adjuster until after the insurance adjuster has provided an estimate of damage.
7. Once the insurance adjuster arrives, get his/her business card and who he/she works for, all communications should be followed in writing. All communications after the initial investigation should be confirmed in writing, and make sure you get all estimates and other information in writing. They should have a detailed estimate to you within 10 days to 2 weeks. If they don't, call them every week. And if they don't respond, call me.
Note: If you were in Corpus Christi or Rockport or Port Aransas near where Harvey came ashore, it is possible that you could have BOTH a wind claim and a water claim. And if that is the case, then the homeowner should turn in both claims--the wind claim and the water claim and let the two insurance companies sort out who pays for what (wind vs. water).
WHAT IF YOU DON'T HAVE FLOOD INSURANCE?WHAT IF YOU DON'T HAVE FLOOD INSURANCE? If you have no flood insurance, here are some important resources:
1. Register with FEMA as soon as possible.
2. File for the Disaster Assistance and Emergency Relief Program with the IRS. Both of these programs allow for residents to write off their losses via taxes, and even refile your most recent taxes, thus potentially getting an unexpected refund, something that could go a long way in recovery.
3. Apply for the Disaster Legal Services Program. Through this program, the government provides legal services to lower-income individuals. This can help when seeking insurance claims, dealing with contractors and home repairs, etc. A huge benefit.
4. Apply for Rebuild Houston Together--a group that helps senior citizens rebuild their homes.
5. See if you belong to a group that is a member of the Tool Bank, a group that brings much needed tools to a disaster area. Note you must be a part of one of their member orgs, such as a church or other charity, including neighborhood associations.
6. Apply for assistance with Team Rubicon a group that specializes in helping gut homes damaged by disaster so that trade professionals can come in and get the job done faster and cheaper.
7. Work through the options at DisasterAssitance.gov. Links found on this site will streamline some of the other steps, e.g. FEMA application.
CONCLUSIONThe aftermath of a Major Storm such as Hurricane Harvey can be a stressful, tiring time, but having well-documented information can help with your claims. If you are unable to resolve your Flood or Windstorm claim on your own, then call me at (713) 800-0220 and I will be glad to discuss your claim to see if I can help you. You can also message me on Facebook or email me at [email protected] and I will respond. Best Wishes to all as the cleanup begins.
Let's pitch in and help each other!
R. Stephen Ferrell
Board Certified Civil Trial Law
and Personal Injury Trial Law
Texas Board of Legal Specialization
The Ferrell Law Firm, P.C.
5005 Riverway Drive, Suite 450
Houston, Texas 77056
THE ENDLet us hear from you if you have insurance claim problems.