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After Irma- How to Ensure Your Insurance Pays for ALL Your Home Damages

Things I Wish I Could Tell Our Future Clients BEFORE Hurricane Irma – An Insurance Attorney’s Perspective
September 6, 2017
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Hurricane Irma was big and scary but you survived shaken but unscathed.  Unfortunately, your home suffered damage and now you are wondering how you are going to fix it.  Here are the things you MUST do before and after making an insurance claim in order to protect yourself and your family.  Please feel free to share with family and friends.

FIRST: Assess and document the damage.  THE TIME TO DO THIS IS NOW.  The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes.  Use your phone to video any damages.  On the outside of your home (please be careful!), video the obvious problems like fallen trees and fences.

If you have roof damage get as close as you feel safe and comfortable – actually getting on the roof and walking is optimal but let that be done later by the professionals.  For now, zooming in from different sides of the house from the ground is okay as well.  We want to document as best we can the exact amount of missing or damaged shingles/tiles.  This can be EXTREMELY important later.  Why?  Because Florida Building Code Section 708.1.1 requires that if more than 25% of a roof is damaged, the repairs have to bring the entire roof up to current code.  Or, from an insurance perspective, if more than 25% of the roof is damaged, the entire roof must usually be replaced (ie. “a new roof” must be paid for by your insurance company).  Our law firm hires experts in home damage and construction to look at and analyze our clients’ property damage.  Our experts can also analyze “after the fact,” later on, but the more information provided to the expert, the better his or her analysis will be.  The same holds true for experts hired by the insurance companies and for adjusters.

Next, video any damage to your personal property in even greater detail than you did the outside.  You must video the damage BEFORE you discard any of the damage items.  As you video, explain what the item is and what the damage is (eg. “This is a Sony laptop that got soaked when the window broke and now doesn’t turn on.”)  As you begin cleanup, if you unfortunately had significant water intrusion, you will need to prepare a list of damaged items and will need as much detail as possible in order to value it.  Relevant information would be the manufacturer, the age of the item, purchase location, and the dollar value of the item.

SECOND:  If you have moderate to significant damage to your home, make a claim with your insurance company immediately.  If you are not sure whether to make a claim, err on the side of making it.  Your home may have damage that is not evident to the layperson and there is case authority that a delay of even one month in making a claim prejudiced the insurance company and allowed them to completely escape from covering the claim altogether.  You will make the claim by calling the phone number on your insurance Declarations Page.  CALLING YOUR INSURANCE AGENT IS NOT ENOUGH.  Your insurance agent is technically not the same as calling your insurance company.  Your initial claim will be made by phone and at that time a claim number and claims adjuster should be assigned.  However, and we cannot emphasize this enough, as much as possible, COMMUNICATE WITH THE INSURANCE COMPANY IN WRITING (eg. email if possible) as much as possible.  “When in doubt, write it out.”  In fact, I would strongly suggest even following up your initial phone call with a brief written letter with your policy number, name, address, and a brief description of the damage.

THIRD: Your insurance policy requires you to take steps to minimize damages and you need to document that you attempted to do so.  If you have significant roof damage, make notes of any attempts to contact someone to make temporary repairs and what the results of your efforts were.  This can be as simple as an email to yourself with the date, company contacted, and result.  This would negate an insurance company argument that you failed to “mitigate damages.”  Also remember, it could be some time before an insurance adjuster can make it to your home and you want to avoid making any large repairs until the insurance company has had an opportunity to inspect the damage.  Insurance companies frown on major repairs being made, and costs incurred, before they are able to evaluate whether the damage is covered by the policy.

FOURTH: Contact professionals to make repairs.  Please, please be careful in dealing with roofers, contractors, etc. while repairing your home.  You are looking for professionals that are “licensed and bonded.”  You can check on someone’s license at www.myfloridalicense.com to ensure they are actually licensed.  But you are going to most likely engage a professional to remove fallen trees, fix your roof, install new carpet.  Maintain all receipts, bills, estimates, etc. by snapping a picture with your phone and perhaps emailing the picture to yourself; it’s a very convenient way to document expenses – and when it comes to costs incurred, with an insurance company, if you did not document it … it doesn’t exist.  Keep records of every single item or cost you incur down to the penny.

If your home is not inhabitable for some time and you need to move out, the keeping of records becomes even more important.  Additional costs like eating out at restaurants may be covered by your insurance but you need to keep every receipt or it never happened.  If you move in with a friend and agree to pay a couple hundred dollars a month to him or her for the inconvenience, make sure that the agreement is put in writing as well!  We’ve seen lawsuits filed over that issue.

You should wait for your insurance company to inspect the damage before making any major repairs like putting on a new roof.  However, if that is not feasible because of timing, inform your insurance company, in writing, that you are beginning repairs on such and such a date and that if they wish to inspect the damage they should come out before then.

I understand this is a lot of information.  To summarize:

  1. Assess damage and video.
  2. Make the claim.
  3. Minimize damage.
  4. Make repairs.

And of course the final step is to be compensated by your insurance company for repairs and other covered losses.

If you have any questions or need help, please do not hesitate to contact us by Facebook, by email to: jhogan@hoganlegal.com or you can call us at 407-422-2188/407-403-3333.  We have been handling home insurance claims for Floridians since 2005 and would love to assist you if possible.

 

Jeremy Hogan
Jeremy Hogan
Attorney Jeremy Hogan is a partner at Hogan & Hogan.