Ft. Lauderdale, FL—For Scott Mager, it is quite disturbing that thousands of residents of the Superstorm Sandy-impacted areas remain without their homes – and many others without power and other basic needs – while insurance companies and the government fail to pay them the money they deserve.
Mager, a nationally recognized attorney, has been on-the-ground in the devastated areas for several weeks, speaking to large community groups and organizations about the steps they can take to obtain rightful reimbursement for their property losses. He is working with a multi-disciplinary organization called Storm Help Team to help make that happen.
“What I can tell you from my personal experience and research is that residents need the money right now,” said Mager. “As for government funds for FEMA-related payments, reports indicate that the government money approved is going to be paid over a three-year period, instead of right now when all – not some – of the money is needed.” According to Mager, the bill – minus the pork project inserts – should be the starting point. “It is disturbing that any legislator would think it appropriate to insert pet projects into a bill that is supposed to help victims of Sandy.” He said that the media should list the names of every legislator who suggests placement of any pork project into a victim’s bill. “While we hope that each will act appropriately, let’s motivate them to ensure the right action is taken.”
As for the insurance companies, Mager says he also has seen this denial pattern with other storms, and the denials and delay seem to be even more extreme with Sandy claims. “People are either not receiving any money – based on nothing or on baseless defenses – or they are being told that they have substantial damage but then are only getting some money – with promises of more money at some unknown future date that still remain unfulfilled.” Mager says that insurance companies are required to visit properties in New York within six days of notice of the claim, to perform a full investigation and notify the insured of all the details of their payment or denial.
“Insurance companies must pay the full value of claims now, not at some arbitrary time in the future. Incredibly, some companies are even denying people through phone calls and not even visiting the property. Most are not performing proper and thorough inspections. They are not honoring their promises or the law. You paid your premiums on time. Why shouldn’t they pay you full property damage compensation on time? It’s time for people to take aggressive action, reporting these claims to the state and hiring experienced lawyers who will go after these insurance companies for the full value of their property damage.”
While Mager says that there is much to do on your own, whether you or an attorney is to handle your claim, he offers the following five key strategies for property owners navigating the claim process:
- Notify ALL insurance companies. This storm is NOT just about flood insurance. It is also a serious wind event that includes other policies. Therefore, notify every company that handles such areas as floods, homeowners, co-op, condo, renter’s, commercial, boat/auto, etc.
- Write numerous letters each step of the way to document every effort. The more you write and the more you document, the more they respond. If an agent verbally says you’ll get $100,000 by a certain date, write a letter to the company giving the individual’s name, saying, “Thank you for agreeing to pay $100,000 by this date.”
- Videotape and photograph everything. Taking four to five photos is not enough. Take 100 to 200 pictures to document everything so that it is less likely that your claims will be disputed. Also videotape all damage, showing specific damage where it will be helpful. In addition, video record the inspector’s visit and ask him or her on tape exactly what they’re looking at and why or why not an item is eligible to be included in a claim.
- Hire the right expert. If you have structural damage, you’ll want to hire someone who is familiar with how hurricane claims work and the exact manner in which insurance companies want to receive the paperwork. Providing improper or incomplete documents may affect your ability to get money sooner. The right expert also will locate damage you would never imagine might exist, such as window fatigue/failure, internal damages not seen by the naked eye, etc.
- Get the right kind of detailed report of damage. One-page general contractor estimates generally are not sufficient; there are specific expert estimators who know how to properly evaluate and price damages. Make sure you hire those people.
Through Storm Help Team, victims can gain access to free evaluations, FEMA and insurance resources, as well as help from Mager and other experts, including lawyers, public adjusters, estimators, engineers, window inspectors and general contractors. They all are ready to assist property owners throughout the recovery and insurance claim process.
Residents in the New York Metropolitan Area and throughout New Jersey, including the devastated shore areas, can contact Storm Help Team at www.stormhelpteam.org or call (855) 58-STORM to secure an extensive amount of insurance-related resources, to obtain review of your claim, and to receive critical information on how to process their claim to maximize the chances for getting the most money quickly.