Homeowners may be devastated by the damage that hurricanes and tropical storms may cause. Wind gusts, tornados, hail and flooding rain can dismantle a building’s structure, leaving the homeowner distraught about what next steps they may take.
While homeowner’s insurance may provide coverage related to the damages incurred during a storm, sometimes, insurance companies may fail to adequately compensate you. Insurance adjusters may not properly investigate your claim and you may be left with a claim that is underestimated or denied altogether. For example, your roof may have some degree of wear and tear while the storm is responsible for a significant portion of the damage, an insurance adjuster may report that the roof sustained damage unrelated to the storm. In this case, you are left with a roof in need of repair and a financial shortfall.
Know your Rights as a Homeowner in Florida
In Florida, homeowners are protected by state law. The Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights recommends that you contact your insurance company once your home has sustained damage, and it is critical that you gather evidence for your claim prior to an insurance adjuster evaluating your claim. Photographs, videos, and any physical materials may be critical evidence that supports your claim.
Following major storms and hurricanes, insurance companies may send teams of insurance adjusters to evaluate many homes at a time. It is important to contact your insurance company right away after a storm to ensure you are included in the insurance company’s immediate efforts to appraise the damages in the area. Otherwise, after significant storm events, you might be waiting for months before the insurance company evaluates your property.
Further, ensure that you read your homeowners insurance policy so that you understand what may or may not be included in your claim.
Florida statutes include the Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights, which states that the insurance company:
- Must acknowledge the receipt of your reported claim within 14 days after the time you have communicated the claim to them
- Has 30 days from when you submit a proof-of-loss statement to evaluate your claim. After evaluating the damage, the insurance company may tell you that your claim is partially covered, fully covered, denied, or that further investigation is underway
- Has 90 days to deny your claim or provide a partial or full settlement for your claim. There may also be an undisputed portion of your claim, in which the insurance company pays the amount due while the remainder of the claim, the disputed portion, enters mediation
- Insurance companies may be responsible for paying the cost of Residential Property Mediation.
Gathering and keeping evidence regarding your claim
Once the storm has passed and the conditions are safe, you should begin to gather evidence that shows the damage your property has sustained. Photographs, videos, and any physical evidence, such as debris, that shows the extent of the destruction will be critical to your claim. Florida statutes advise that you contact your insurance company before entering into any contract for home repairs. If you must make emergency repairs to prevent further damage, contractors may perform these upon a contingency basis. Otherwise, if you must pay out-of-pocket for emergency repairs, document your repairs with photographs, including photographs of the damage prior to repairs, and document the expenses by keeping all receipts and payment history associated with the repairs. It is critical to keep all the receipts of any out-of-pocket expenses you have incurred as a result of the storm damage and the fact that you have been unable to live in your damaged home as you did prior to the weather event.
Reasons your claim may be denied or not fully covered
A homeowners insurance policy will often cover water damage related to a storm surge but not flood damage. In order for flood damage to be covered, it typically requires a policy that is separate from the average homeowner’s insurance policy. Your insurance company may cite the following reasons for denying your claim:
- Negligence – if you do not properly maintain your home, your insurance company may decide that it caused unnecessary damage
- The damage is a non-covered peril – it is important to read your homeowners insurance policy prior to accepting it as well as prior to submitting your claim. You may find that the damage you want to be repaired is not included in your policy. For example, many policies do not usually include flood damage or earthquake damage. Make sure you read the fine print to avoid this situation
- Limited coverage – your policy may include a limit as to what the insurance company will cover. If the amount you are seeking exceeds the limit, your claim may be denied
- Claim filed too late – Be sure to check your policy about how long you may wait before filing a claim. Typically, you will want to contact your insurance company immediately after you assess the storm damage to your home. However, in some cases, you may have been in need of medical attention due to injuries you may have sustained during the storm. In this case, depending on your injuries, you may have waited to file your claim. If you or a loved one is unable to contact the insurance company because of injuries sustained during a storm, you will want to keep documentation of any medical attention and care you received to show to your insurance company
Reasons to dispute your claim that is denied
While it is important to work with your insurance company, you may disagree with the amount that the insurance company allocates to repair the damage to your home. In an appeal to the insurance company, you will want to make sure you have done the following steps:
- Read your policy to ensure that your claim lines up with what the policy dictates
- Reread your denial letter from your insurance company to make sure there is not an error
- If you find an error on the insurance company’s end, you may contact the insurance company about the mistake and use any evidence you have to support your claim
- Finally, if the insurance company refuses to correct the error, then you may hire an attorney to represent you and negotiate on your behalf
How a lawyer may benefit your claim
If you believe that your claim has not been adequately compensated, then you may want to hire an attorney to negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf. Damage to your home may cause significant financial and emotional distress and it is important to work with an experienced lawyer who can help resolve the issue. Reasons you may hire an attorney include the following:
- Your claim was denied
- Your claim was only partially covered
- Your claim was paid out at a reduced amount