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Plan for Possible Post-Hurricane Dorian Claims

After a hurricane, finding shelter, food or other concerns may be ahead of filing an insurance claim for damages. Take steps early to make the process easier. Plan for Possible Post-Hurricane Dorian Claims  

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – We don’t often think about property insurance until we need to file a claim.

And if that claim is for damage sustained in a hurricane or tropical storm, chances are we’ll have a lot more on our minds, like shelter, food, transportation, and how we’re going to return to work.

But now is as good a time as any to think about how to make the claim process go as smoothly as possible.

What to do now
Make records of your home and possessions. Compile an inventory with estimated values and send it to the cloud for easy retrieval later. Do the same with a still or video camera. One easy way is to walk through your home and record video with your smartphone. Narrate what is being recorded and include value or replacement costs. Then upload your video to the cloud. This will help establish your claim.

In addition to photographing the interior and your contents, don’t neglect taking detailed photos of the outside of your house, said Paul Handerhan, senior vice president for public policy at the Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit Federal Association for Insurance Reform, a consumer-focused watchdog and advocacy organization.

“Take good photos of your house’s condition pre-storm and take them again immediately after the storm,” he said. “Many insurance disputes hinge on whether damages were pre-existing or were a result of the storm. Disputes arise because of the uncertainty of the field adjuster, who might not inspect the house until 30 days after the storm.”

Read your property and flood policies carefully. Does it cover wind damage? Check coverage for Additional Living Expenses. This covers hotel bills, restaurant meals and other expenses if your home is rendered uninhabitable.

Remember what the two types of insurance cover: “Rising water is covered by flood and falling water is covered by wind [property] insurance,” said Jeff Grady, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents. “Wind-driven rain and seepage is covered by neither.” Why not? Insurers’ “logic is that you are responsible for protecting your openings. If you forget to caulk your windows or your weather stripping gets dried and cracked and water pushes through, that’s your fault.”

Prepare to install your hurricane shutters, or make sure they work if they are permanently affixed to your home. If the price of your insurance policy reflects that you have removable shutters, failure to install them could void any post-storm claim. If you live in a low-lying area, use sandbags and plastic sheeting to protect against rising water.

Follow your insurance company on social media for important storm-related information. Save your insurance company’s or agent’s phone number for ease of filing future claims.

Review the “Duties After Loss” section of your policy. Failure to follow the provisions in this section could result in non-payment on your legitimate claim.

Make sure your insurers have up-to-date contact and mortgage company information.
Have copies of your insurance policies in a safe waterproof and easy to access location, along with other important documents such as deeds, wills, health records, financial records, pet records, identification details, home inventory, etc. Photograph or scan your documents and save them to the cloud for easy retrieval in the event of a loss.

What to know in general
Hurricane deductibles are a percentage of insured value, not the claim: This is one unfortunate truth about hurricane coverage that infuriates policyholders when they’re told their damage claim falls short of their deductible, says Grady.

Typical deductibles range from 3 percent to 5 percent of the policy limit listed under Coverage A for building damage. “For example, if you have, $200,000 in coverage for the building, your hurricane deductible could be a high as $10,000. Compared to a non-hurricane claim, this is a significant increase,” said Gina Clausen Lozier, partner at the law firm Berger Singerman and a leader of the firm’s insurance practice.

An owner of an apartment complex that has numerous buildings easily could see hurricane deductibles exceeding seven figures, Clausen Lozier said. While it might be too late to make changes before Hurricane Dorian hits Florida, property owners who would have a hard time paying for damages that do not exceed the deductible might want to purchase additional coverage that reduces the deductible to a more manageable amount.

Talk to your agent to see if your existing insurer offers this, or you can purchase supplemental coverage from a company such as StormPeace. The company promises to put as much as $10,000 in policyholders’ hands as quickly as 72 hours after a storm, which can be used as the customer sees fit.

You might have more coverage than you think: Many policies today include what’s called Ordinance and Law coverage, which could reimburse you for the cost to rebuild up to your policy limit, plus additional costs of complying with modern building codes, such as impact windows, enhanced roof protection, electrical codes and so on.

Typically, Ordinance and Law coverage is a percentage of Coverage A building damage limits. So if your Coverage A limit is $200,000 and your Ordinance and Law coverage is 25 percent of that, you would be covered for an additional $50,000.

“Failure to have this coverage, or having minimal coverage, can result in a significant gap in funds available to make the necessary repairs to comply with local ordinances and laws,” Clausen Lozier said. She advises property owners to confirm whether they have the coverage, and if so, that the amounts are adequate.

Many policies also make an additional 5 percent of the Coverage A limit available for debris removal. That could be important in the event of a total loss.

You might be required to provide sworn “proof of loss:” Many standard homeowner policies require policyholders to provide the insurance company with a sworn statement attesting to the amount of the claim and providing supporting documentation for that amount, Clausen Lozer said.

Often the statement must be submitted within a certain number of days after the loss. “If an insured does not recognize this obligation and fails to comply with this duty, it could jeopardize the right to recovery,” she said.

What to do after Dorian
Call your insurance agent immediately. Most major insurers have toll-free phone numbers. If you run into snags with the insurer, your agent may be able to advocate on your behalf through other contacts at the insurance company.

Take pictures/video of damaged property before clearing away any debris or obstructions. This ensures you have a record of exactly how the damage occurred. Keep notes and use inventory lists to help adjusters assess damages.

Be aware of your hurricane deductible ranging from 2 percent to 10 percent of your home’s insured value. For some policies, a $500 flat deductible applies. Whatever your deductible, you will be responsible for it.

Secure replacement costs/estimates from local retailers and obtain statements from vendors on items that cannot be repaired.

Begin making temporary repairs to prevent further damage. Save all receipts. But don’t make permanent repairs until an insurance adjuster has inspected any damage.

Do not dispose of damaged contents until authorized by your agent or claim representative. Insurers usually don’t pay for removal of trees or debris that blew into your yard without damaging an insured structure.

Let your insurer know how to reach you if your home is uninhabitable or you move somewhere else temporarily.

Be careful about signing anything from contractors before speaking with your insurance company. Some contractors might try to persuade you to sign document called an Assignment of Benefits which transfers rights to seek payment for your claim, including filing lawsuits.

Don’t assume that adjusters will know what street they are on; street signs may have blown away. Industry officials say spray-painting important information on homes after a hurricane has proven effective. But don’t include your policy number; someone else may take advantage of that.

Be patient. Insurers usually send adjusters to the worst-hit homes first.

Many adjusters and agents are authorized to issue checks on the spot to cover the cost of temporary housing.

If confused about your claim or dissatisfied with your insurance adjuster’s findings, consider seeking help from a public adjuster. A list of licensed adjusters is available from the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters at fapia.net.

Copyright © 2019 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Ron Hurtibise. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.