8 Important Tips to Recovery the Most Money
You were already a victim of a natural circumstance when the storm hit and caused damage to your property, uprooting your life. Don’t become a victim to the insurance company handling your claim. Take Control of Your Claim. Having suffered through monster hurricane events, and having also served as a lawyer and expert for the insurance industry and for the individual consumer (individuals, businesses, etc.), I am acutely familiar with the personal and business devastation that people (including myself) have suffered as a result. Compounding the problems associated with the actual property damage, we face the real and serious stress accompanying the delays and “red tape” associated with trying to secure sufficient funds to effectuate repairs or basic needs (food, shelter, water), or to continue business endeavors. Here are 8 important secrets to maximize your chances to secure the most money the fastest.
1. SECURE FEDERAL AND STATE ASSISTANCE (NOTIFY FEDERAL EMERGENCY
MANAGEMENT AGENCY = “FEMA”) You should immediate seek federal assistance from FEMA (“Federal Emergency Management Agency”) through their Individual Assistance Program (IAP) at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or www.FEMA.gov. If you have problems with the process, you can also call FEMA at 800-621-3362. You can also check for additional resources (or apply for federal relief) by looking to your local State Emergency Management Center links (for example, Florida link is found at https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4283 or directly at www.FloridaDisaster.gov); Georgia is at https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4284; South Carolina is https://www.fema.gov/disaster/3378; North Carolina is https://www.fema.gov/disaster/3380). Each state also has its own emergency resource phone line (for example, for Florida it is 800-342-3557).
2. NOTIFY ALL INSURANCE COMPANIES.
Notify every insurance company directly (not just your local agent), whether it for your home/condo (homeowner’s insurance), or your separate flood policy, as well as your business and any other insurance company for which you pay a premium that may cover your claim. You may have multiple insurance companies to notify, based on how many policies you have. For example, you might have a homeowner’s or condominium or renter’s policy; you may also have a separate flood policy; and you may even have a separate business policy or multiple policies; and you also may have what is commonly referred to as “umbrella” or “excess” policies on any of those risks. If you don’t have full copies of each insurance policy, make sure you secure copies of each policy by calling your insurance agent or insurance broker, or if they are not available, call each insurance company directly. It is important to secure full copies of the policies because there are often additions (referred to as “riders” or “endorsements”) that often can modify the conditions of the policy and the amount of money available.
3. TAKE/IDENTIFY MORE PICTURES AND VIDEO
Take many pictures and video of every aspect of your house from different angles, including those showing damages. Detail on the video or write on each pictures (or state on the video) exactly where the room or damaged item is located. If adjusters or inspectors come out to inspect your property, you should consider videotaping/audiotaping the proceeding by walking around with them (and have your chosen expert present). You can combine this evidence with specific estimates (discussed below) from your licensed contractors (general contractor, roofer, plumber, engineer, etc.) to make a compelling case for immediate payment of moneys.
4. NOTIFY INSURANCE COMPANIES OF REPAIRS
If you intend to perform repairs, get multiple estimates for licensed (well-known) contractors, and notify each insurance company in writing of anticipated repairs, informing them of the date and list of repairs (with pictures, repair estimates, expert reports included), offering to have them visit or revisit the premises or to speak directly to your contractor or make suggestions on repairs before you repair. This way, they can’t later complain that you somehow violated the insurance contract or otherwise didn’t properly cooperate or they were somehow prejudiced because they needed to see the damaged premises or know about the actual repairs because they were made. It is also important to take pictures/video or and retain samples of damaged property (such as shingles or other roof materials, wood from floors or wall, stucco, pieces of doors or windows, etc.). This information may prove useful later for the insurance adjuster, for the insurance company, for forensic testing or for showing other contractors or experts, for lawsuits if needed, etc.
5. HIRE THE BEST EXPERTS
You often don’t know all the damages that you have. Your windows might not be broken, but they may have failed due to the mass winds. Your roof or structure may have suffered damage that you cannot see. You may have water trapped behind walls or under floors are in the attic or basement that may cause other damage or lead to mold or other problems. Thus, you should consider retain the best experts who have specific and substantial experience in handling storm claims. You may need a special kind of engineer, roofer, window inspector, field adjuster or all of them. There are certain kinds of reports and estimates that must be produced to maximize getting the most money the quickest. Generally, simple contractor estimates alone don’t help you much. The best experts will know the exact kinds of detailed forensic reports that persuasively tell your story. Generally, you will have to pay for these services, unless you hire a disaster-recovery-experienced law firm, who will front all those expenses for you.
6. CONSTANTLY WRITE
Do not rely on oral representations from anyone. Write letters or emails after every discussion with an insurance company or adjuster, whenever a representation is made, a promise provided or a number stated. They should be in sufficient detail as to properly reflect what has been promised, completed, not completed, etc. and should request they let you know in writing if there is any inaccuracy in what you have written. You should have dozens and dozens of letters along the progress of the claim. Write every day or every week, after you speak to anyone and after you receive any representation or promise from anyone or also when you intend to perform anything that the insurance company might need to know (repairs, getting rid of property, etc.). In addition to making the insurance company more responsive to you, and more likely to perform and pay, it also helps to create an organized timeline of what has occurred, and eliminates insurance agents or others claiming they or you said something different.
7. CONSIDER HIRING AN ATTORNEY OR PUBLIC ADJUSTER
The insurance companies know that individuals and business owners don’t know the nuances of how to understand complicated insurance policies or what specific requirements you MUST complete or you get nothing. Thus, while individuals can handle the claims themselves if they follow all the steps, the data shows that insurance companies pay sooner and in larger amounts when you have an experienced attorney who has handled many storm (property damage) claims. You can alternatively retain a ‘Public Adjuster,’ who is a private individual licensed to handle insurance claims. Both will often work on what is referred to as a “contingency fee” (meaning they agree not to take any fee unless they recover money for you). Contact us to learn more about your options.
8. DON’T GIVE UP
Don’t give up in the pursuit of your claim just because you get a ludicrous or other unfair denial. Just because an insurance company says they are not paying you, doesn’t you’re your claim is over. Get the right reports that document each damaged item in a way that looks ridiculous for the insurance company to deny you. Get the best expert help and remain committed to getting your money. The more aggressive and documented your route, the more likely you are to receive the most money the quickest.