Editor’s Note: Disaster insurance claims attorney Scott Mager has been on-the-ground in the devastated areas of New York and New Jersey since just after the storm, speaking to large community and residential groups and organizations about specific strategies 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. Recent televised appearance by Mager viewable here:
New York, NY – Many Superstorm Sandy victims who have insurance – and have been paying for it for years or decades – feel stunned by the lack of response by insurance companies after they make property damage claims.
Insurance company failures to fully inspect properties, refusals to pay full damages without giving proper explanations, incomprehensible denials or other red tape represent just some of the headaches property owners face, in addition to the daily slow-motion nightmare of having to live in less than adequate surroundings while stressed by the insecurity of not knowing if they will ever receive the proper money to which they are entitled.
According to disaster insurance claims attorney Scott Mager with Storm Help Team, insured property owners are entitled to be frustrated or even depressed because of the ridiculously slow and insensitive process and lack of information given to the owners on how to expedite claims.
Mager is uniquely qualified because he has seen all sides of insurance claims, having served as the top lawyer at one of the largest insurance companies in the world and honored as their National Litigator of the Year, and having devoted even more time to helping thousands and thousands of property owners. He also knows what owners feel, having lived through many major disasters, as well as worked with legislators on drafting legislation, and served on panels with government agencies, city/county officials and other renowned experts.
“We’re seeing it continue to play out for many thousands of Sandy victims – slow responses from insurance companies, inadequate inspections by adjusters with no reports being provided, form denial statements or letters, claims that the owner/insured failed to provide sufficient documentation but not explaining what documentation would be sufficient, and false promises of payment are commonplace in these situations,” said Mager. “It is ludicrous.”
Insurance companies rarely volunteer much information about processes and procedures that will enable insured individuals and businesses to receive full, just compensation for losses.
Mager recommends five critical strategies to maximize property owners’ chances to recover funds expeditiously.
Notify all insurance companies.
Recognize that storm events (such as storm event) involve a number of potential causes. Thus, in addition to notifying FEMA, either 1) notify each insurance company for which you pay a premium, or 2) speak to an experienced attorney who can specifically tell you which/all insurance companies to notify. Storms such as Sandy don’t just involve flood insurance. Storms involve substantial wind events, which may invoke your homeowner/co-op/condo/renter’s insurance. It could involve your business, loss of income or loss of employees or the ability to pay them, which might invoke your commercial insurance policies. You might have an ‘excess’ or ‘umbrella’ insurance that covers items not covered by other policies.
Keep the process forward-moving by aggressively maintaining active communications.
The old adage of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” can really hold true in a claims scenario with as many impacted insurance claimants as resulting from Sandy. Initiating the claim and then staying on top of it day-in, day-out can mean the difference between a fairly quick resolution and waiting around for many months – or years – to get paid.
“Just to show you the importance of who you select to aid you, there are people who did not make the proper investment of time or to hire the right experts or the best lawyer, and they got less money paid in 2012 for the 2005 Hurricane Wilma storm,” said Mager.
You may also wish to consider sending an entire ‘demand’ package that includes expert reports, new and more detailed photographs with written explanations written underneath them, along with unique line-by-line field estimates and a special kind of detailed letter that forces the insurance company to either pay or explain in writing why they are not paying.
Notify insurance companies of ongoing, completed repairs.
If repairs are not already completed, notify insurance companies in writing of anticipated repairs, informing them of the date and list of repairs (with pictures, repair estimates and expert reports included), offering to have adjusters revisit the premises, speak to one’s contractor or make suggestions on repairs.
If possible, retain samples of damaged property, such as shingles or other roof materials, wood from floors or wall, stucco, pieces of doors or windows, and the like. This information may prove useful later for testing, for showing adjusters or experts, or for court proceedings.
Constantly keep written records.
Do not rely on oral representations or statements from anyone. Write letters and archive emails after every discussion with an insurance company or adjuster whenever a representation is made, a promise is given or a number is quoted, and record the full name of adjusters or other insurance company officials making specific statements or promises.
“Property owners should have several dozen letters throughout the claims process,” said Mager. “Paper trails are the best way to give one’s own attorney plenty of proof toward a proper settlement or other legal action, or to use with complaints you can file with the State for bad faith actions of the insurance company.”
Additionally, if adjusters or inspectors are coming back on-site to the property, consider also videotaping or audiotaping the proceeding by walking around with them – or having one’s chosen expert walk around with them.
Hire the best experts.
Specific to a property owner’s claim, it is critical to research the best experts who have specific and substantial experience in handling disaster claims. For example, claimants may need an engineer, roofer, window inspector, field adjuster – or all of them. Retain nationally regarded experts experienced in handling disaster claims who will know the exact kinds of detailed forensic reports that persuasively tell one’s story. Generally, property owners will have to pay for these services, unless they hire a disaster-recovery-experienced law firm that will front those expenses.
There is great value in these sorts of experts, but they usually find much more damages, many hidden to the naked eye, such as failed window systems (not just broken windows), moisture and damage behind walls, and roof and other foundational problems not overtly visible, which add great value in fully compensating for losses.
Through Storm Help Team, experts, including lawyers, public adjusters, estimators, engineers, window inspectors, general contractors and others 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 receive the great assistance and advice, including but not limited to: Finding and applying for disaster assistance; free claim evaluations; finding great attorneys, public adjusters and other experts; how to check the progress of applications and claims; resources to recover and rebuild; and other insurance disaster information for consumers.