Irma? We’re not done with Matthew!

Hurricane Irma is now a Cat 5 Hurricane. Meanwhile, nearly a year later, we are still intaking Hurricane Matthew claims from insureds who held out hope that their insurance company would do right by them. My recommendation is and will always be to have representation immediately. There is no reason why an insured should go unrepresented in the claims process. Look at it this way, the insurance company has its team of adjusters and engineers. Why should an insured not be on the same level playing field as the insurance company? In my experience, I have never handled a claim where the insurance company found all the covered damage and immediately paid an appropriate amount to restore a property to its pre-loss condition. After a claim, an insured should immediately seek legal representation to properly preserve and prepare the claim, which includes proper documentation (including differentiating conditions which existed pre v. post loss), analysis (including expert retention) and valuation (utilizing qualified experts) of the loss.

Contact us today if you have any questions.

Mismatched Shingles & Roof Tiles, Granular Loss and Blue Tarps…

My wife and I took a drive up A1A to one of our favorite places, St. Augustine. The drive along the coast is a great way to wind down after a long work week. While this is a regular excursion for us, we had not been to St. Augustine since Hurricane Matthew until recently. During the drive, I could not stop pointing out all the mismatched shingles & roof tiles, granular loss and blue tarps.

Understandably, my wife wanted me to turn off “work mode”. That was the point of the drive, right? However, I could not help to wonder how many homeowners were taken advantage of not knowing that a policyholder may be entitled, under Florida law, to matching shingle/tile replacement. In many instances, in the event a matching replacement cannot be located, the insurance company must pay for entire roof replacement per Florida law. What is meant by granular loss? Simply, look at a shingle roof. If you can see a pattern in the shingles that was not there before the hurricane, then you may have granular loss. It may be more defined now, several months later, as dirt accumulates differently depending on the amount of granules on a shingle. As for tarps, why are there so many tarps still? Are roofing companies that backlogged or are insurance companies failing to pay insurance benefits?

TO SIGN OR NOT TO SIGN

The frequency of shady contractors swindling homeowners in insurance claims has dramatically increased since Hurricane Matthew devastated the area. The contractors’ method of deception is forcing a homeowner to sign an Assignment of Benefits (AOB). While most insurance policies allow for a homeowner to assign benefits to a third party, such an assignment is not required or mandated in order to receive benefits. Many contractors approach the homeowner with an AOB form and suggest that it must be signed before they can proceed with providing a repair estimate.

If you sign an AOB you can no longer deal directly with the insurance carrier to resolve your claim. The claims adjuster can only legally negotiate with the contractor and payments will be made directly to the contractor. Unfortunately, some contractors cash claims checks without making any repairs to the insured’s home.

There is currently pending before the 2017 Florida Legislature a bill that will greatly reduce the ability for contractors to defraud homeowners with AOBs. If passed, under the new law an AOB will not be valid unless it is signed by all persons insured under the policy and includes a seven-day period in which the insured may cancel or void the assignment without penalty. Most importantly, the AOB must contain a written, itemized, per-unit cost estimate of the work to be performed.

Until new legislation is passed, however, your rights as a policyholder and claimant could be compromised if you sign an AOB. If a contractor asks you to sign a contract, estimate or other document, contact our office and allow one of our attorneys to review the document with you and assure your interests are protected.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Lightning Strikes?

With the 2016 Hurricane season over and 2017 season soon to be on us, it is a good idea to review your homeowner’s policy for coverage exclusions. Your insurance agent has probably let you know whether you live in a flood zone and whether additional flood insurance was mandatory and highly advised. But, what about lightning?

Typically lightning strikes, as well as fire caused by lightning, are covered as perils in almost all homeowner’s insurance policies. But, there may be exclusions. Read the fine print. For example, your policy may not cover damage from an electrical surge that occurs when lightning strikes the power line that runs to your home.

A lightning strike can create a fire inside or outside your home, ruin sensitive appliances, electronics and wiring inside the walls, and even shock and injure occupants.

If a lightning strike happens, the most important thing is to safeguard your family and yourself.

•Make sure your house is equipped with smoke and fire detectors. Lightning is so hot that fires caused by direct strikes are instantaneous. If you smell smoke or feel heat during a storm, evacuate the building immediately.

•Make sure all of your appliances are plugged into grounded outlets that offer surge protection. This will not protect against a direct strike, but it may help if there is an electrical surge in a storm. For maximum safety, unplug computers, televisions, microwaves and other electric appliances during storms.

•If you live in a high strike area, consult professionals about installing lightning rods or whole house surge protection.

Even with such precautions, it only takes one direct lightning strike for your home to be damaged.

Contact us to discuss your coverage and to file a claim for damages incurred by a lightning strike.

THE TEN (REALLY ELEVEN) COMMANDMENTS TO FOLLOW WHEN APPEARING FOR A DEPOSITION OR SWORN STATEMENT

Whether you are pursuing a personal injury or insurance claim, or are a debtor in bankruptcy, or a plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit, you will likely be required to answer questions under oath. On those occasions, remember that the person asking you the questions is, in all probability, not on your side. It is in your best interest to have an attorney represent your interests when you are subpoenaed for a deposition or requested to provide a sworn statement.

Your attorney will be able to object to irrelevant lines of questioning, redirect the deposition into appropriate areas, and prevent the questioner from putting you on Trial through a simple sworn statement.

Your attorney will walk you through the deposition process and help you understand the following guidelines:

1. Do not volunteer information; answer only the question asked. No matter how much you want to help the case, avoid the temptation to expand your answer beyond the question asked.

2. Listen to the question asked. Never interrupt a question with an answer.

3. Do not answer any question unless you understand the question and the information requested by the question. If you do not understand a question, you should request that the question be repeated or clarified.

4. Do not guess when answering a question. All that you are required to provide is your best recollection. If you do not know or remember the answer to a particular question, say so. Just because you are asked a question does not mean that the question has an answer and that you must have an answer.

5. Do not bring any documents to the deposition/sworn statement unless there is a written request specifying the documents you are to have with you, or unless your lawyer so advises. When presented with documents or exhibits during the deposition/sworn statement, take time to review the materials to be sure that they are genuine and take time to think about what the document represents.

6. Listen, concentrate and focus on the questions asked. A deposition/sworn statement is not the time to engage in small talk or jokes. If you get too comfortable with the person asking the questions, you may not realize what you have answered.

7. Be polite and never become angry or hostile. By becoming angry or hostile you restrict your capacity to listen and concentrate on the questions asked.

8. When faced with a leading question, that is a question that suggests the answer, or a hypothetical question, that is a question that assumes facts, be sure that the entire substance of the question is accurate before answering “yes.” If any part of these kinds of questions is inaccurate, then either correct the inaccuracy before answering or simply answer “no.”

9. Do not hesitate to correct errors you may make during the course of the deposition/sworn statement. Everyone miss-speaks and forgets things.

10. Respond to each question; but at the same time make the question mean what you want it to mean and answer the question the way you want to answer the question.

11. TELL THE TRUTH! Do not lie, exaggerate, or overstate what you know.

Remember that it is in your best interest to have an attorney represent your interests when you are going to give a deposition or sworn statement.

If you have received a subpoena, contact us today to look out for your best interest.

Why you should consult with a Property Insurance Attorney for EVERY Property Insurance Claim.

The insurance adjuster works for the insurance company, not the insured. During the months since Hurricane Matthew, I have heard countless people naively say “their” adjuster when referring to the insurance company’s adjuster. This misconception allows the insurance company to – as a routine business practice – underpay claims. We have all heard the old adage: Get three estimates when hiring a contractor. If this is wise advice, then why accept the insurance company estimate at face value?

My experience is that, on average, there is a 20-50% difference between the insurance adjuster estimate versus an independently-hired contractor or estimator. In short, you should always consult an experienced first party property insurance attorney in the following scenarios:

  • Denial of insurance coverage
  • Reservation of Rights letter
  • Delays in payment of claims
  • Bad faith by the insurance company

However, more often than not, the insurance company routinely relies on “underpayment of claims” in order to boost its bottom line. An experienced first party property insurance attorney knows how to maximize your claim. Most importantly, all cases are accepted on a contingency fee basis for the additional payments obtained, meaning there is no fee if we do not recover additional funds from the insurance company. In addition, the insurance company may be liable for attorney’s fees and costs under Florida law.

Please call our office for an appointment to discuss your Claim.

Insurance companies have denied payment in 43.8% of all closed Hurricane Matthew Claims in Volusia and Flagler Counties.

Insurance companies have denied payment in 43.8% of all closed Hurricane Matthew claims in Volusia and Flagler Counties. This amounts to nearly half of all insurance claims either being denied or estimated by the adjuster (working for the insurance company) below the deductible.

As of October 28, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation reports the following statistics for claims in Volusia and Flagler Counties:

Number of Claims 35,868

Closed Claims (Paid) 8,025

Closed Claims (Unpaid) 6,244

Number Claims Open 21,599

Percent Claims Closed 39.8%

These statistics raise several questions:

Of the 6,244 unpaid claims, how many claims were either wrongfully denied or underpaid so that the claim failed to exceed the deductible?

Of the 8,025 paid claims, how many claims were underpaid?

The simple answer is, without review of each and every claim by an experienced property insurance attorney, a homeowner will likely never know if their insurance company properly paid or denied payment.

Contact us to get the money you were denied.

Free Consultation…No Fee if No Recovery

By Michael Ciocchetti – Partner