Were Your Hurricane Irma Insurance Claims Unfairly Denied, Needlessly Delayed, or Wrongfully Short-Changed?
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The United States suffered greatly from the impact of hurricanes in 2017. One hurricane which impacted Florida, causing major damage was Hurricane Irma. Thousands of claims had to be filed for the loss of residential and commercial property. While most of these claims were processed and settled with no problems, there are issues with some claims that are denied, delayed or even result in an underpayment. You should understand how to file a claim correctly, how to avoid issues that result in one of these problems and what to do when a denial or delay occurs.
Hurricane Irma Reaches Florida
Hurricane Irma began developing at the end of August and would later reach Category 5 status. It was the largest hurricane to hit the US since Hurricane Katrina. At its peak, Irma reached 185 mph winds. It reached Florida on September 10 at Cudjoe Key with winds at 130 mph. A second landfall in Florida came at Marco Island on the same day before the hurricane dropped back to a Category 2. A total of 90 deaths in the state were attributed to the storm.
Numerous counties were included in the state of emergency with shelters being opened in 13 counties. Mandatory evacuations were given in Fort Lauderdale as well as other cities. As people evacuated, major traffic congestion was experienced. Numerous tourist attractions were closed, including Walt Disney World. There was a shortage of fuel in the path of the storm as people fled the area.
Flooding was experienced in residential homes, which increased the risk of health risks. Over 1.5 million customers were without power throughout the state, which soon increased to nearly 4.4 million in the days after the storm. No airplanes were flying over the state at one point in the hurricane. Because of the extreme importance of the tourist industry to the state, unemployment increased for the first time since September 2010.
Filing Claims for Property Damage
One of the major impacts of Irma was damage to homes and businesses. Between flooding and wind damage, many properties suffered major damage with others experiencing moderate or slight damage. It took several days or even longer for some claims to be filed because homeowners could not get back to their property to find out what happened.
Filing a claim for property damage can be complicated, but it is often even more complex in a natural disaster. There are often delays and even claim denials which means the recovery process is slower as property owners wait for the necessary funds to rebuild and repair as they attempt to move forward. To prevent these issues, it is important to understand how to file correctly, how to avoid common issues and what to do when your claim is denied, delayed or underpaid.
Homeowners should not wait to file a claim if they know there is damage to their homes. They don’t have to see it to begin the claims process. A homeowner can call their insurance agent and start the claim, and then they can call back later with more information as it becomes available.
It usually takes a few days for an adjuster to make it to your property to see the damage. In a major catastrophe like Hurricane Irma, that timeline is extended dramatically. It can be weeks before someone assesses your property. You cannot wait to begin cleanup and temporary repairs to prevent further damage. You will want to let the insurance company know what needs to be done and get to work on it. However, you will need to document all damage to the property before you begin the cleaning and repairs. Take pictures of everything and even record a video where you walk through the property and show what has been damaged. This information will be important when it is time to settle your claim.
Once the adjuster has made it to your property, they will appraise the damage. They will create a report the insurance company will use in creating a settlement offer.
Most of the time, you will have no trouble with your claim. The insurance company will offer a settlement that is acceptable and you can begin moving forward. However, there are times when the claim is denied or your payment is delayed. In other cases, you may receive only part of your settlement. If this happens to you, it’s important to know what to do.
Tips to Help You File a Claim
One of the main causes for delays and denials on claims is because the homeowner failed to do something they should or didn’t follow through on what they should do. To ensure your claim is filed and the process moves along smoothly, follow these tips:
- File your claim as soon as you can, even if it means you haven’t seen the property yet.
- Write down your claim number for reference anytime you call about it as well as the name and phone number of your adjuster.
- Keep track of all documents and communication between you and the insurance company. It’s often helpful to create a file with everything kept together.
- Record all damage through detailed notes and photos. Video is even better for tracking damaged property.
- Prevent your property from further damage by making essential temporary repairs that can be removed at the request of the adjuster.
- Keep all receipts of any expenses you have incurred.
- Read all documents before you sign anything, and make sure you know what you are signing.
- Hire an independent appraiser to assess the damage and help you receive the settlement offer you need.
- Hire an attorney to help you if you experience a denial or delay in your claim.
These tips will help you move through the claims process with fewer problems. However, you should still know what to do if you do not get the settlement offer you think you are entitled to.
Know Your Legal Options
If you have done everything you think you should do and still experience delays or a denial, you need to know what you can do legally to complete the claim to your satisfaction. You do have rights and you can take action.
Use the Appraisal Process
If you have never read your insurance policy, you may not realize there is an appraisal clause. This clause states you have the right to hire your own appraiser if you do not agree with the insurance appraisal. You can do this at any time, from the beginning, during the settlement negotiations or after you reject a settlement offer.
When you use the appraisal process, your appraiser and the insurance appraiser will meet with their respective reports and discuss their findings. The goal is to reach an agreement about the appraisal. However, an arbitrator can review the reports if no agreement is reached and determine which one they agree with.
If you fail to agree with the settlement offer or have other issues with what is being denied, you can use mediation to resolve your dispute. A third party will hear both sides and help reach a resolution. In many instances, an attorney will handle the mediation for you.
Mediation can solve the dispute if you have issues with the amount or if you do not agree with other terms of the settlement. You are not required to accept the recommendations of the mediator though.
Your third option is the most serious and usually the last resort. If you cannot accept the settlement offer from the insurance company or your claim was denied, you can allow the courts to decide by filing a lawsuit.
You will need to contact an attorney who can represent you in this matter. They will know the court system and how to find evidence to support your claim. Litigation may be the only option if you feel the insurance company did not use a good faith effort to handle your claim.
An attorney can advise you on your best option depending on your circumstances. In many cases, they will offer a free consultation to discuss your case.
Why You May be Denied
You can have your entire claim denied, which would leave you feeling confused and worried about how you will pay for repairs. There are reasons for a denial, but the most common is filing with the wrong insurance or filing for an uncovered incident.
Two types of damage are caused by hurricanes. One is flooding and the other is wind damage. Other damage may occur as a side result of the storm, but these two are the main reasons a property needs repaired.
Most homeowners’ insurance policies do not cover flooding, but they do cover wind damage. In a storm like Hurricane Irma, it can get tricky deciding what caused the damage and how to file your claim. If you have flood insurance, you would file with that company for any damage caused by flood waters coming in your home.
On the other hand, you might have wind damage to your roof, which would allow the rain to come in and ruin your carpet and other furnishings. A tree limb could break off in the wind and break a window, which would also allow water to come in from the rain.
You would have to determine the cause for your damage to ensure you file a claim with the right company, either your homeowner’s insurance or flood insurance. If you file with the wrong company, your claim will be denied.
Another reason for denial is that it does not appear to be a valid claim. This situation could happen if you had only minor damage from Hurricane Irma and did not notice it until months later. Your roof starts leaking, and you file a claim. There was no recent storm to blame for the leak, so the insurance company says it is not a covered incident. You would have to prove that the damage came from the hurricane which occurred months earlier even though you are just now reporting it.
It pays to have your home inspected if you are in an area that has seen hurricane damage even if it does not appear that your home was impacted. You cannot tell about the roof or other areas unless you look at them. It is much easier to get your claim approved if you file right after the weather event.
Your claim settlement may be delayed, which impacts your ability to get the repairs done to your property. In some cases, it is because the insurance adjuster needs more information. They may have been delayed in viewing your property and may not see the same damage you reported. This is one reason it is important to document damage as soon as you see it.
When a claim is part of a major disaster as with Hurricane Irma, the insurance company is given an extension on any deadlines they normally must follow. You can expect the entire process to be delayed, including the settlement payment.
Why a Claim May be Underpaid
You may receive your payment for the claim you filed, but it may not be for the amount you were expecting. One reason for an underpayment of a claim is because the insurance company denied a portion of your claim. Perhaps they determined that some of the damage was caused by a covered incident and the rest was old damage or from another cause.
In such a situation, you should receive the amount for the part of the claim that was approved. You will want to read over your policy and determine why that portion was denied. If you do not understand the policy or agree with it, you can contact an attorney who will help you determine if you should have been paid for all of the claim.
You may also be underpaid if you did not keep good records. An insurance company is not likely to pay for expenses if you do not have receipts showing proof. For instance, if you had to stay in a hotel, you will need a hotel receipt to be reimbursed for your temporary living expenses if your insurance policy includes that coverage.
You may apply for assistance from FEMA for any expenses that are not covered by your private insurance or if your payment is delayed. You can often find other resources to help you out until your claim is settled.
You should contact your attorney if you have a claim that is denied, payment that is delayed or partial payment in place of the entire amount. They can provide legal advice on what you should do and help you build a case to support your claim. It is helpful to know about issues with claims so you know how to respond if you have problems with yours from Hurricane Irma.