After a quiet early start to the 2022 hurricane season, the powerful devastation of Hurricane Ian turned Florida upside down. Hurricanes are so destructive because they can cause deadly damage in five different ways, and Ian carried record-setting force in all five categories.
Storm surges, tornadoes, inland flooding, storm winds, and rip currents were still causing destruction and dangerous conditions even as the center of the storm moved out of the state. It will be months before we understand the full extent of the losses suffered. However, many losses are immediately apparent. The question is, what can you do to get your losses covered?
To ensure that you have the opportunity to receive the maximum recovery for your damage, you need to present thorough documentation. Ideally, before the damage occurs, you should take photos and make inventory lists of the property in your home, the condition of your home itself, and the condition of vehicles such as cars, motorcycles, and boats. Don’t forget recreational vehicles such as ATVs and jet skis.
After the storm, document the damage. Take photos that show damage up close and from more of a distance to provide perspective. Make notes of aspects of the scene that aren’t apparent in photographs, such as the smell of mold. Mark and photograph high water levels. Move furniture away from walls to look for hidden damage. The process can be heartbreaking, but the more completely you can record your losses, the greater the chances that you will be able to recover all of them.
Notify Your Insurance Companies
Many people wait until they make detailed lists or get repair quotes from contractors before they notify their insurance company about storm losses. However, most insurance policies require you to provide “prompt notice” after a loss. Waiting too long to report damage could give your insurer reason to deny your claims. The company can also claim that late notice did not give them the opportunity to examine the damage when it was “fresh.”
As a practical matter, millions of people will be filing claims and your insurer will be inundated with reports, so their ability to examine damage right after the storm could be largely theoretical. Nevertheless, if you give them a contractual reason to deny your claim, they may take it, so don’t take that risk. Report the losses as soon as possible.
Remember that if you have losses caused by both flooding and wind or even rain driven by wind, these will be covered under different policies. You need to report the damage to your homeowner’s insurance for wind and rain damage and your flood insurance company for damage caused by storm surges and another flooding.
Review the Details in Your Insurance Policies
It can be hard to know which is more painful: combing through your damaged items after a disastrous hurricane like Ian or combing through the terms in your insurance policies. However, you need to read policy information in detail to understand what you need to do to get your losses covered.
For instance, your flood insurance may require you to separate damaged property from undamaged property. To prevent health risks, experts recommend or even require you to discard flood-damaged items once you have taken photos of the damage.
Your insurance policy may also require you to take certain actions to mitigate further damage, such as covering open areas with a tarp. However, your policy will usually not cover the cost of repairs you make before an adjuster documents the damage, so hold off on making repairs or even signing contracts for remediation. Make sure you understand and follow the requirements in your policy and know what your policy will cover.
Beware of Bad Faith
Insurance companies will be taking a huge hit from Hurricane Ian. They will be looking for ways to keep their costs down, and sometimes their methods may be less than ethical.
If they refuse to cover damage that should be covered under your policy, or if they engage in unnecessary delaying tactics, you could have a claim for bad faith. An attorney who handles property damage could help you negotiate a fair and timely recovery or pursue a claim for bad faith if appropriate.
Remember That You’re Not in this Alone
It can be very challenging to come back from losses like the kind we see with Hurricane Ian. Remember that it is okay to call on others for assistance. You don’t have to pay the first contractor who offers to fix the damage for an exorbitant rate. If your insurance company offers to pay you far less than you should receive, you don’t have to accept that settlement.
An experienced attorney at the Maus Law Firm can help you understand your rights and get fair treatment so you can rebuild and move forward. Contact us today to get started.