By Richard L. Purtz, board-certified trial attorney, Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz, P.A.
Preparing for a hurricane goes way beyond buying water and flashlight batteries, and it should begin well before your home is in a storm’s path. While hurricane season is from June to November, peak storm time runs from August to late October.
For homeowners, hurricanes pose a serious threat of damage to property. Dealing with issues after an event poses many financial, logistical and psychological challenges, such as waiting for the storm path to be determined, dealing with damage and clean up, and sometimes fighting with your insurance company over fair compensation for your damaged property. A well-prepared owner can help reduce stress and speed claims processing.
Well in advance of hurricane season, it’s important to review and make sure your homeowner’s policy is robust enough to fully repair or rebuild in the event of a claim. It’s important to understand what your insurance covers and what it doesn’t. Be sure to review the policy thoroughly and ask questions of your insurance agent, so you can make changes prior to the start of hurricane season. Keep your policy in a secure place before and after the storm.
Following the active hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005 that resulted in many claims against the insurance industry, policies now have high windstorm deductibles, often 2 to 10% of the face amount of the policy. For example, a policyholder with $300,000 in dwelling coverage can be responsible for a hurricane deductible between $6,000 and $30,000.
Make a video or photo inventory of all your property inside and outside your home in the weeks before a predicted storm with evidence of the date the images were taken. Keep a spreadsheet of date of purchase, purchase price, model number and warranty information of your major appliances and furniture and be sure to store it in the cloud, Dropbox, or removable zip drive (kept in a dry, safe place such as a bank safe deposit box).
These preparations help your insurance claim by establishing cash or replacement value. Knowing the age of your property helps determine depreciation. Images of your personal property, home and roof will help clearly establish any damage that was caused by the storm.
After the storm, it’s critical to thoroughly document your damage. At the very first opportunity, start photographing or videotaping every square inch of your property inside and out. Don’t forget the roof! Photograph damage large and seemingly insignificant to your property as well as in your neighborhood. Missing roof tiles or branches in your neighbors’ yards may later be found to have damaged your house.
After you have documented the post-storm damage, it’s your duty to do what you can to prevent additional damage to your property. Keep track of the work you do, such as removing trees, moving household items to safety and minor repairs. You are entitled to a reasonable value of your time in these endeavors. Spending time removing debris or making temporary repairs can result in
A common mistake made by homeowners is what to do with damaged property, with the inclination often to throw it in the trash to be hauled away. STOP! You must make all damaged property available for inspection by your insurance company. In addition, damaged property is evidence of your loss and may be needed to prove your claim or case in court. Once your insurance company pays you for your damaged property, known as salvage, the insurance company becomes the owner of it. Make sure you notify your insurance company in writing of your intent to dispose of any damaged property and give your insurer time to come and inspect it or take possession of it.
Your homeowner’s insurance covers the cost of temporary repairs for hurricane damage, as well as living expenses and reasonable additional living expenses (ALE under the policy) if you must relocate, such as extra expenses getting to work or school. Be sure to document any ALE expenses.
You also have a duty to cooperate with your insurer, which could include sworn testimony and providing financial records. Being prepared with documentation of the state of your property before the storm can speed processing of your claim and is helpful if you need to apply for disaster aid.
Homeowner’s insurance is a contract that covers losses and damages to an individual’s house and assets. Under Florida law, reasonable attorney’s fees will be awarded to a homeowner who wins a lawsuit against the insurance company for failing to pay for a loss covered by the policy.
An attorney experienced with hurricane claims can review the information and documentation of your claim and help you determine the best course of action when dealing with the insurance company.
About the Author
Richard L. Purtz, managing partner of Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz, emphasizes personal injury, wrongful death and insurance claims litigation. He is rated “AV” Preeminent Civil Trial Attorney, which is the highest ranking under the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Rating system. He is also listed as one of Florida’s “Super Lawyers.”