Hurricane Isaac Insurance Claims
In the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, most of us will then be forced to deal with insurance companies for the wind damage and possible flood damage that our properties suffered. The key to recovery in all of our communities is the ability to make the insurance companies provide you with the insurance proceeds that you have paid premiums for over the years.
Our firm has substantial experience in handling hurricane insurance claims from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike. We have negotiated settlements with insurance companies totaling multi-million dollars, including claims for property damage, contents damages, additional living expenses, business interruption, commercial property claims, and all other forms of insurance claims. Our greatest successes have been in taking claims that were completely denied by the largest insurance companies in the world and ultimately forcing those insurance companies to pay to our clients the full estimates of the contractors and public adjusters that our clients hired to evaluate their damages. In many instances, we were able to obtain settlements from those insurers to cover attorneys’ fees and penalties in addition to the cost to restore our clients’ homes.
As you are working with your insurance company, please keep a few things in mind:
Maximizing Your Insurance Claim
•1) Flood policy Is Different From Homeowners Policy: Your homeowners’ insurer (such as Louisiana Citizens) provides coverage for wind damage and wind-driven rain, whereas your flood insurance policy provides coverage for flooding to your property. The distinction between the two is very important.
•2) Can Have Both Flood and Wind Coverage: Your homeowners’ insurer will likely want to point to the flooding in order to completely deny or reduce coverage under your homeowners’ policy. However, even if you had flooding to your property, you still may be entitled to coverage under your homeowners’ policy. For instance, if there was other wind damage that experts and adjusters on your behalf can identify, your homeowners’ insurer may still owe you coverage. Thousands of homes after Hurricane Katrina and Rita were able to obtain coverage under both the homeowners’ policies and the flood policies, even though there was flood damage to the property. Therefore, you will want to make sure you are presenting the proper claim to both insurers to get as much coverage as possible to cover your damage.
•3) Coverage Determination: Do NOT simply rely on the insurer to tell you whether you have coverage or not. Often times, the people on the phone from the insurance company, or even the adjuster who comes to your house, do not have knowledge of the written language in your insurance policy, and they often do not know how to interpret an insurance policy properly under Louisiana law. Therefore, you should get them to provide you with a complete copy of your policy and then take it to a lawyer who can evaluate your property damage with you and who can help interpret your policy with you.
•4) Statements to Insurance Company: We have already received calls from potential clients whose insurance companies on the phone have said things like, “Boy, it sounds like the real damage you had was flooding and not wind, right?” This is likely an attempt by an insurance company to get the client to commit that the damage was caused by something excluded under the policy. Do not fall into that trap. Do not commit to the cause of damage when you speak to the insurance company. The cause of damage to your property can often require experts to evaluate the damage to your home to determine if there was wind damage prior to or along with the flooding. It is not advisable for you to guess as to the cause of the damage to your property. Once expert engineers and adjusters get to your property, they may determine that the damage in fact was wind-related and not from flooding. In fact, you may not have even had a good opportunity yet to inspect all of your property to make an adequate, informed statement on the cause of damage. An accidental, incorrect statement on your part to the insurance company can give them the ammunition to deny your claim. Therefore, it is better to be safe than sorry, so do not guess with them as to what caused your damage.
•5) Inspection by Insurance Company: Provide the insurance company the opportunity to inspect your property as they request, but make sure that you are with them when they inspect your property. Make it clear to them that you want to be there with them as they look at your property.
•6) PICTURES, PICTURES, PICTURES: Take as many pictures and videos of the damage to your property as possible. Even the slightest markings or damage on a wall, ceiling, or furniture can show that there was damage to your property.
•7) Contents list: Begin making a list of every item you can think of that was damaged in your property. Go room by room and make a list of every toothbrush, bar of soap, trash can, shirt, picture, etc. that was in that room. If it had any contact with water, or you believe it suffered any damage at all, put it on your list.
•8) Proof of Loss: Your flood insurer will require that a sworn proof of loss form be submitted to prove your claim. This is by federal regulation. Contact us and we can provide the form to you to make sure that your claim is preserved for flood insurance proceeds. The standard for proof of loss under the homeowners’ policies is more relaxed and not as formal. However, we still have to make sure that you have provided adequate information to the insurer to prove your losses or homeowners’ coverage.
•9) Receipts: Save every receipt you can. This includes receipts for meals, grocery, hotels, buying items for the family you might be staying with to repay them for their aid to you, costs of repairs, etc. If you are paying for damage to the home, gutting of the home, etc., get a receipt for the work. It is best if you pay with a check so that the amounts paid can be traced and submitted to the insurance company. However, if you feel you must pay in cash, get a receipt signed by the contractor or laborer to show the amount paid, the date paid, and the work that was paid for. Many insurance companies will deny damages even if the repairs were made if there is insufficient documentation. The more you can provide, the better you will be.
•10) Use Email or Fax: When communicating with the insurance company, we strongly advise that you either email the adjuster or fax materials to them. For every person you talk to from the insurance company, get an email and/or fax number from them. When you send pictures or documents, send them through email if possible. This way, you can always track your emails and save them for your records. If there is a dispute, we will have a record of the communications with them to rely on. When you talk to someone on the phone, follow up that conversation with an email to that person, which says, “This email will confirm our conversation today in which you told me . . . .” At the end of the email, tell the person, “If anything I have said here is inaccurate, please let me know immediately.” This gives you the ability to document everything you were told by the insurance company at all phases.
•11) Seek Legal Counsel Before Settling Your Claim: Many people feel that they can deal with the insurance company themselves without the need to get a lawyer involved. In our experience, you can determine very early on whether the insurance company is going to act fairly or not. Often, the longer the claim goes disputed with the insurance company and the more they drag it out without paying, the more damage they can do to your claim. As a result, our clients are better served if we are at least consulted earlier on in the claim to ensure that all proper steps are being taken. Our firm will visit with you and advise you on your claim, and even monitor the claim without charging a fee. At any point you choose, we can then be retained on a contingency fee (no upfront fees, but we are simply paid a percentage of the ultimate recovery at the end of the day) to negotiate the clam from that point on. Even if you work your claim yourself, we advise you to at least sit down and talk to an attorney about your claim before you sign a release settling the claim completely.
Feel free to contact us to ask us any questions concerning your Hurricane Isaac insurance claim. Please fill out the information sheet below or call Dominick Impastato or Marc Frischhertz at 504-523-1500 or by email at [email protected] or [email protected].