Is your insurance company paying you what you’re owed for Hurricane Irma damage?
As of Dec. 15, three months after Hurricane Irma made landfall, more than 600,000 storm-related homeowners’ insurance claims had been filed in Florida, including 18,000 in Sarasota-Manatee alone. So far, statewide insurance claims total more than $6 billion. Only about 75 percent of those claims have been paid thus far – and that is not counting the ones that have not even been filed yet.
“Obviously, insurers are having a tough time keeping up with all the claims,” says Elisha Robertson, an attorney with Sarasota’s Kirk Pinkerton PA. “There are mistakes being made because of the influx of claims. You have to protect yourself.”
Though the insurance companies are in a tough position, they’re still subject to rules and statutes that protect the homeowners and ensure they get the money that is owed to them. As a policyholder, you need to be aware of your rights.
“As annoying as it is, this happened to us through no choice of our own,” says Robertson. “You definitely need to be proactive and keep up with them. Be the squeaky wheel.”
First, if Hurricane Irma damaged your property and you haven’t yet filed a claim, know this: It’s not too late. “Florida statute dictates that you have three years, after the storm made landfall, to file a claim,” says Robertson.
“When in doubt, file a claim,” she says. “The worst thing they can say is no. It is not going to hurt you. It is not going to make your deductible any higher or make your payments higher. But if you have any damage from the hurricane, then go ahead and make your claim and let them sort it out from there.”
And, she add, “Just because they say no in the beginning, that is not the end.”
Once you make a claim, the insurance company must respond within 14 days, and they have to start investigating that claim within 10 days of receiving proof of loss. “This response time is dictated by statute,” says Robertson. “If they do not abide by the statutes, then you can file a bad-faith claim against your insurance company for not handling your claim fairly.”
In the meantime, you should assemble as much evidence of the damage as possible, including before-and-after photographs as well as receipts for any repairs you have already purchased. And if you are using contractors for repairs, be sure first to vet them through the Better Business Bureau as well as the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
After you have filed your claim, the insurance company will send and adjuster to your house to assess the damage.
Within 90 days of filing, the insurance company must either pay or deny your claim.
The amount and reasons for that payment depend on the specific clauses in your policy, and the outcome can vary wildly depending on your deductible, the type of damage done and many other variables built into your contract with the insurance company. For instance, flood damage usually requires a separate policy; wind damage and water damage might be covered in separate clauses of your policy, even though they happen simultaneously during a storm.
“It’s important to read through your policy to know what you are dealing with,” says Robertson. “It can be very frustrating and confusing. Sometimes the best thing is to find your lawyer, whoever you trust, hand them that 50-page document and say, ‘What do I need to know? Give me the highlights.'”
If you do not understand your policy and what you are entitled to – and it can be a difficult document to comprehend in full – make an appointment to sit down with an attorney or an objective, third-party insurance expert – someone who is not affiliated with your insurance company. Your rights are all spelled out there in black and white, and an expert can tell you, in no uncertain terms, what that contract says you are owed. The proof is in the policy.
Lastly, do not stress unnecessarily, and do not let stress discourage you from talking to your insurer. “Not all experiences with insurance agencies are bad,” says Robertson. “Sometimes they just want to work with you, and you are going to be OK.”
In fact, oftentimes, the biggest barrier to fair payment is a homeowner’s own hesitation in filing the claim and following through. Robertson encourages homeowners not to fall victim to a mindset that forces them to pay for a disaster that was not their fault. “It is not like we brought any of this upon ourselves,” she says.
For a free consultation, contact Elisha Robertson at 941-364-2412 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Claims are handled on a contingency basis.