It is astonishing to see how quickly storm surge and 155 mph winds from Hurricane Michael can damage buildings and structures. Many of you may have properties or know people in the Panama City and Mexico Beach area who have suffered damage to their properties during the storm. One of the first things you will want to do if you suffered damage from Hurricane Michael is to put your insurance provider on notice of the loss. It is important, when filing a claim under your insurance policy, to make sure the information you provide is as accurate and current as possible and that you meet all the obligations that are required of you under the policy. Here are some tips for filing an insurance claim for damage from Hurricane Michael:
YOUR OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE POLICY
Typically, an insurance policy includes specific requirements that you, as the policy holder, must follow in order to receive any money under the policy. Meaning, there are things you have to do (think: notices you have to give the insurance company, things you need to file, deadlines you have to meet) in order to get paid on your insurance claim and you may not yet know what they are. Many policy holders do not read their insurance policies and are, therefore, unaware of these requirements. The insurance companies are often eager to take advantage of your ignorance about policy requirements to either entirely deny your claim or pay your less than they are obligated to pay on your claim. Don't let the insurance company use your own policy against you. Read your policy carefully and be on the lookout for requirements like these:
NOTICE AND TIMELINESS
Insurance companies usually require you give them notice of any damage immediately after it occurs. Meaning, if you are in a car accident, you should notify your insurance company of the accident as soon as possible. If your home is damaged from a storm, you should notify the insurance company as soon as possible after the storm. This allows the insurance company to begin investigating your claim for recovery immediately and gather information while the circumstances surrounding the accident, storm or fire are fresh. Memories fade and recollections change over time, so many insurance policies require immediate notice of the accident or storm and include time limitations, often set out by state law, that prevent you from suing the insurance company over a claim filed after a specific period of time. For example, if you wait a year after the storm to notify your insurance company of damage to your property, this may serve as grounds for the insurance company to deny your claim. Do not do it.
Notify your insurance company immediately after an auto accident or if your insured property sustains damage. The insurance company will also want the opportunity to take available steps, if any, to prevent further damage, such as temporarily repairing roof damage to prohibit further water intrusion which will result in further damage to the interior of your home. If your failure to notify the insurance company immediately after an accident, fire or storm hinders the insurance company's ability to properly investigate the claim (perhaps because evidence is destroyed or lost) or to take steps to prevent further damage (perhaps because you allowed it to continue to rain in the interior of your home), the insurance company may try to pay you less or nothing on your insurance claim. Putting the insurance company on immediate notice after an accident, storm or fire and finding an insurance law attorney to make sure your rights are protected during their investigation is the best course of action you can take after an accident, fire or storm.
PROOF OF LOSS
Insurance policies also typically require you file a "proof of loss” within a certain amount of time after the accident or damage has occurred. Generally, it is within 60 or 90 days after the accident or damage was sustained. Read your policy and know when you have to file a proof of loss as failing to file one within the specified timeframe can result in a denial of your insurance claim. A proof of loss is a document created or written by you, that you have to sign, swearing it is truthful and accurate. The document will specifically describe the details of your loss, meaning the particular property that was damaged or lost and its estimated value to repair or replace.
Be very diligent in obtaining estimates or values. Get them from receipts if possible or licensed contractors who provide estimates for the repairs or adjusters if one is sent out to evaluate your claim. Know that the proof of loss is generally one of the most important documents forming the basis of your claim as well as the insurance company's potential attempt to deny your claim. Be very diligent in preparing your proof of loss, double-checking it for accuracy and completeness before submitting to the insurance company for use during their investigation. Keep a copy of all records you send to your insurance company, including the proof of loss and any evidence supporting the date it was sent.
Generally, property insurance policies prohibit coverage for further damage to the property that is caused by your failure to take reasonable steps to prevent additional loss. For example, if you fail to put up boards or temporary roofing to prevent further water intrusion into your home or business property and rains continue to pour in and cause further damage to your sheetrock and flooring. This would be a failure on your part to properly mitigate your damages. This limitation typically only applies if you have been negligent in protecting the insured property after the initial damage was sustained.
If you believe there is something you can or need to do to prevent further damage, inform your insurance company immediately of what you believe needs to be done and ask whether the expense of doing it will be covered under the policy. If you are able to get an insurance law attorney involved before making necessary preventative repairs, it is a good idea to get someone involved who is looking out for your rights and making sure you take the best steps to protect your right to be paid everything you are owed on your insurance claim.
KNOW YOUR POLICY: READ THE FINE PRINT
Many people never read their insurance policies, only to be surprised later to find out they did not follow the required procedure to file a valid insurance claim or that their coverage was not as comprehensive as they thought and insurance companies often use this to their advantage. It is important to read your policy when you receive it and to make sure you understand the fine print and the steps you must take if you file a claim. If you are confused by your insurance policy, give us or another insurance attorney a call. We never charge any fee or cost to sit down with you and discuss your policy, your coverage and your legal rights.
A HELPFUL GUIDE FOR INVENTORYING DAMAGED PROPERTY
Your home is your most significant investment. Knowing the right steps to take both before and after a storm can help ensure you do not lose more than your deductible and recover what you are entitled to on your insurance claim. If you suffered damage from Hurricane Michael, have you inventoried your belongings, collected receipts, taken photos? DOWNLOAD our free "After the Storm" guide for helpful tips on how to best document and inventory your damage from Hurricane Michael to include in your claim to your insurance company.
SEEK LEGAL ADVICE AT NO COST
If you have any questions during the claims filing process, you should seek legal counsel. There is no cost at Taylor, Warren & Weidner to learn your rights and your obligations under the policy to ensure you do not make any missteps or inadvertent omissions that could severely impact your ability to recover the full value of your claim. The insurance company has a team of professionals working as hard as they can right now to ensure they pay the minimum amount on your claim. You deserve professionals working equally hard for you to ensure you receive the maximum amount you are entitled to. We want to help you navigate the claims filing process. We never charge any fee or cost to sit down with you, evaluate your claim, and advise you of your rights. Contact us today.