We all know that living in Florida means having to deal with real property damage claims caused by tropical storms, tornadoes and by the dreaded hurricane. (Like 2017’s Category 4 Hurricane Irma).
Just like any other insurance claim, a claimant (homeowner) should ask themselves the following questions when deciding how to proceed after one of these casualty events occur:
- Who is responsible to hire someone to repair my property?
- Who handles the clean-up and removal of my property (including the debris)?
- What are my coverage limits?
- How much is my deductible?
- What about losses from lack of services (water, electricity)?
- Will insurance cover all of my out of pocket costs?
Other common issues the arise with storm and Hurricane related real estate damage claims include knowing what information to have when filing an insurance claim and how to proceed when the insurance company denies your claim.
Insurance Companies Are Well Oiled Machines
With so much practice, insurance companies have finely tuned systems and protocols in place for dealing with Florida hurricane and storm related real property damage claims. Therefore, it is important for you to be just as prepared as they are especially when it comes time to deal with the insurance adjuster.
The insurance companies (especially Citizens) want to keep their claims payouts as low as possible because these storms impact their bottom line and, in some instances, impact their solvency.
So, be prepared by having your insurance policies readily available, along with copies of receipts and other evidence of ownership (like pictures and video of your belongings).
Filing An Insurance Claim
Here are a few quick pointers about filing an insurance claim:
You should file your storm damage claim with your insurance company as soon as you can. Delays in filing a claim can create an issue with your carrier. For example, if you wait to make a claim related to mold, the insurance adjuster may argue that you contributed to the damage because the delay in acting allowed the mold to spread which increased the damage to the property (meaning, you failed to mitigate the damage – see below).
Also, when filling out the company’s claim form, be sure to fill it out as accurately and as complete as possible. If you make mistakes, or fail to include an element of damage, or lie, then they may dispute their duty to pay your claim.
Additionally, it’s strongly recommended that you take photos of the storm or Hurricane damage when you are first allowed access to the property and are able to assess the damage. Add these photos to your claim form and make sure they know the time and date that the photos were taken.
Most importantly, keep a copy of your completed claim form and its attachments for your records. Also, keep evidence of the time and date that you submitted your claim, and how you did so (United States Postal Service, FedEx, hand delivery). Insurance adjusters get countless amounts of claims daily, and these numbers grow immediately following a hurricane. Don’t let the insurance company put your claim on the back burner.
What Damages Can Be Covered By A Florida Insurance Policy?
Residential property insurance is governed by Florida law. With Florida being at such a high risk of damage from a hurricane or tropical storm, insurance companies must offer coverage for damage to your residential property caused by high winds (hurricane windstorm coverage – Florida Statute 627.712) and flooding (banks and mortgage companies are required to make homeowner have this insurance for those in Flood Zones – See FEMA’s Flood Maps).
Florida statutes mandate that insurance carriers offer home owners coverage for hurricane wind damage.
Citizens Property Insurance, is the state’s insurance company that offers coverage for wind damage for Florida property owners who are entitled to, but are unable to find property insurance coverage in the private market.
Flooding poses a higher risk for those living in Florida than in other parts of the county. Accordingly, insurance carriers do not offer coverage for flooding and rising water damage under their basic property damage insurance policies. (Citizens, for instance, does not include flooding in its property insurance policies.)
Florida home owners must get flood insurance coverage through an insurance company that offers flood insurance or through the National Flood Insurance Program, which is operated by the federal government (According to FEMA’s website “You can only purchase flood insurance through an insurance agent or an insurer participation in the NFIP. You cannot buy it directly from the National Flood Insurance Program”).
**Note that flood insurance policies do not begin coverage for 30 days after the policy is effective.
Additionally, those with flood insurance need to make sure that various kinds of water damage are covered in the event of a severe storm in Florida. For instance, “storm surge” is a particular kind of flooding that happens after a hurricane. The flood insurance policy language needs to include “storm surge” as part of its coverage. It is not safe to assume that it is covered in every flood insurance policy.
The property owner has a duty to try and keep the damage to the home and residence as minimal as possible. This “mitigation duty” extends to both before and after the Hurricane hits.
Before the storm, the property owner has a duty to board up windows to shield them from the anticipated high wind speeds. Additionally, to minimize the damage that flooding or high water may cause, it is wise for the owner to do things like shutting off the electricity at the breaker before water can come into contact with electrical outlets.
There is also the duty of mitigating damages after the storm hits. If there is property that poses a hazard to human health, then you have a duty to take care of that problem as soon as possible. The same is true if there is damage that will grow or exacerbate harm to the house or residential property if left unattended.
When taking pictures of the storm, make sure to do so before making any repairs or cleaning up. This is vital in situations where the home or condo has suffered flooding or has been exposed to the elements because of wind damage.
Timing of Repair
It is natural to want to begin repairs immediately following the storm. However, the insurance adjuster will want to inspect the property damage before repairs are made in order to make his or her own list of damages and to prepare an estimate of the cost to replace or repair the property.
Of course, after a big weather event, there may be some time that passes before the adjuster gets to your property. If their delay causes additional property damage, then things can become complicated.
For instance, if the insurance adjuster delays going to the residence to assess the damage and mold begins to grow, then the insurance company may be a contributing cause of your damages (the adjuster’s delay allowed for the mold to grow causing additional damage to the property). Here, you may have a claim against the insurance company for contributing to your damages, which may be a separate claim from the original claim made under your policy (however, don’t forget about your duty to mitigate damages).
Third Party Liability
Another issue with property damage after a major weather event like a hurricane here in Florida is who may be responsible for the damage. For instance, if a huge tree is uprooted during the storm and falls onto your property, then the owner of the land where the tree fell may share liability for the debris removal and resulting repair.
Similarly, if you own a condo or duplex and your neighbor failed to shut off electricity, causing a fire in your home, then that property owner may be a third party who is liable for the damages to your real estate.
Litigation of Damage Claims
After a hurricane or serious storm, Florida home owners may be faced with the additional stress of the insurance company denying your damage claim.
For instance, whether or not your insurance policy covers flooding after a major weather event is a common issue that may need to be litigated here in Florida. Was the damage to your property caused by rising flood waters or was it caused by water that entered your home through a damaged roof or broken window? This is an issue that a trier of fact (either a judge or jury) may need to decide.
Most important information to know here: If your insurance company denies your claim, don’t let your claim it end there. Specific Florida laws were written to protect homeowners who are facing property loss or damage caused by severe weather.
What Should You Do?
If you are having a problem getting your insurance company to pay your home related hurricane damage claim, then a good piece of advice is to speak with an experienced Florida real estate lawyer to learn about your rights. Most real estate lawyers, like Larry Tolchinsky, offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
If you found this information helpful, please share this article and bookmark it for your future reference.