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.
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?
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.
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.
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
- Family Law
- Property Damage
- Insurance Disputes
- Insurance Claims
- Hurricane Matthew
- Assignment of Benefits
- Financial Issues
- Estate Planning
- Power of Attorney
- Aaron Wolfe- Partner
- Florida Bar
- Personal Injury
- Hurricane Irma
- Carol Yoon – Associate Attorney
- Michael Ciocchetti – Partner
- G. Larry Sims – Partner
- Theodore R. Doran – Partner