‘Tis the season to be jolly and deck the halls with Christmas joy. Some may find that difficult this year as they are still in the middle of cleanup and restoration as a result of the 2017 Hurricane Season. This season was exceptionally tough on folks in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Some of the issues in Texas involve the damage and contamination caused by the “black” water that destroyed their contents. CAT adjusters flooded the area immediately with the logic and advice that these items might be cleaned, particularly the pots, pans, dishes and glassware. We came across an article actually written by a cleaning company that stated the only thing that could be cleaned to a safe usable level after this contamination is the glassware. This coming from a company who earns its’ living cleaning items. They are referring to contents that were sitting in flood waters, waters contaminated by sewage and chemicals.
If you have ever personally experienced a flood such as the one caused by Hurricane Harvey, one thing you will remember for a long time is the smell. One whiff of this and there’s no way you would agree to the cleaning of the pots, pans, dishes or glassware. We have insurance to replace these items when damaged. This would certainly be considered damage and not something you can just wash off and continue to use. The insurance companies would like for you to clean and disinfect these items, they say just immerse these items in boiling water for 10 minutes to disinfect and sanitize. We say I don’t think so!
In Florida, those affected by Hurricane Irma saw much different damage from powerful winds rather than flood. Those folks are battling the storm created opening language in the policies and other issues related to wind. However, their biggest battle has been the stortage of insurance adjusters created by the back-to-back storms. Some three months after the storm and some policyholders have still not seen an adjuster and some still haven’t received a penny from their insurance company. Demolition and repairs are already underway because they must protect their property from further damage while they wait for their claim to be handled. This is a struggle since there is no definite timeline on the payment of the insurance proceeds. Fortunately, some contractors have begun work knowing that payment is going to be delayed but have still been willing to help these people out.
If you find yourself in need of help or thinking that maybe your claim has come up short, it is easy to find professional help. A simple review of your claim and/or estimate by a licensed public adjuster may shed some light on the process and where those shortfalls are and help you reach full resolution concerning your claim.
Hurricane season is at its peak and folks are still in recovery mode following the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Now, there appears to be a shortage of insurance adjusters, especially in Florida where basically policyholders are having to wait because the insurance adjusters are all in Houston because Harvey was the first to hit.
Insurance companies are advertising for adjusters and trying to build up their rosters to cover the areas hit the hardest. Simply put, they are using anyone with a pulse to help out because of the high volume of claims being reported right now. Property owners are the ones who will be left on the short end of the stick as inspections are being performed by people who just don’t have the experience or expertise to properly inspect and estimate the claim. This leaves huge holes in the estimate, huge discrepancies in the claim value, and makes it even more important for the property owners to hire their own claim professional and have an expert on their side.
There are lots of numbers and terms to get through when trying to figure out how much your insurance company is going to pay for your storm damage. Many times, the age, whether it can be repaired, and/or possibly discontinued materials will lead to complete coverage of the damages. In the claim estimates, most discrepancies arise because there are covered components missing in the initial insurance estimate. While is it nice to get your insurance check and begin the repairs, don’t rush to the finish line!
Your insurance carrier has a claim professional representing them – do you? Even if the insurance adjuster is an independent third party, they were still contracted by and work for the insurance company. Insurance companies would further lead you to believe that you, the policyholder, must get your own estimates to help in the negotiation of the claim. You are not an expert. You should hire someone to represent your side in the claim negotiation process.
Don’t be a victim twice, seek professional help with your claim.
The adults are getting in on all the fun when it comes to personal drones. It was only a matter of time before the insurance industry found them useful too when assessing property damage insurance claims. From surveying the damages caused by storms, to inspecting roofs, to taking an inventory on insured crops, the drone has found its place in the business.
Allstate Insurance Company is using drones in Texas to conduct home inspections in the hail swaths. This is an effort to quickly handle more claims. Their plan is to compare the photographs taken by the drones to those already taken by field adjusters on the ground. Their intent is to free up more time for the adjusters to take care of other aspects of the claim all the while staying safer by not climbing ladders and onto roofs. Farmers Insurance says “we’ll get a faster inspection.” They say “it could take an adjuster a few hours to inspect this roof where a drone could do it in 20 minutes.”
Is this truly what is best for the policyholder, a faster inspection? And will this savings in time for the insurance company result in lower premiums for the policyholders? I think we all know the answer to that question. Nothing can replace the human eye when it comes to a thorough inspection of storm caused damage, especially hail damage. A lot of times, it is difficult to depict the damage from photographs taken by an adjuster who is actually on the roof. I can’t imagine that photographs taken using a drone would make this anything but more difficult.
A spokesperson from the Insurance Council of Texas believes that “the ladder might soon be a thing of the past.” Just another reason the policyholder is going to require the services of a licensed public adjuster to get a thorough inspection and estimate of the damages. If your insurance adjuster isn’t going to get on the roof, your public adjuster definitely is.
A recent article by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram concerning SB10 proposing constraints on litigation surrounding hail claims in Texas includes some interesting numbers. According to the data contained in the article, there were nearly 400,000 hail claims filed in Texas in 2015 which resulted in 9,910 lawsuits. You do the math – that is a mere 2.4775%.
Based on these numbers, do we really need any legislative remedy?
The insurance companies want you to believe the claims that result in litigation are the cause of higher premiums and/or cancellations. Some of those companies even use the threat of pulling out of the state completely which they say would also result in an increase in premiums and narrow the pool of insurers to choose from.
Senate Bill 10 is not good for the Texas consumer and is yet another attempt at placing constraints on the consumer when it comes to being paid properly on a claim. Although more streamlined than previous attempts, SB 10 is still too broad and does nothing more than help pad the insurance industry’s pockets.
Hail Storm Senate Bill 10 pending in Texas as a result of complaints and lawsuits filed following the major hail storms across South Texas. Texas Watch group is responding and calls these storm bills “tornadoes that are bearing down on every property owner in this state.” The passage of these types of bills would result in the policyholder being limited to whatever the insurance company says is right or good.
“He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” — Abraham Lincoln
This phrase remains as applicable today as it was 200 years ago when said. Mostly attributable to Abraham Lincoln, the above quote may have had earlier origins. In the context of our famous President, who was also a lawyer, he means that a lawyer should not represent himself or herself in court. The overriding principle is the loss of objectivity, the inability to see both sides of the equation, and, worse, to be consumed with punishing a perceived wrong.
However, the above quote also has universal application. Stated alone, you are taken more seriously when qualified people speak for you. Fundamentally, it relates a perception that you have other people on your side, which is important because it often feels like a David v. Goliath situation. Also, it sends a message that you are willing to take this matter further if needed.
In litigation, a qualified attorney is a necessity. Your chances of being taken seriously without are slim to none. Interview as many as possible and retain the one who has the factual and legal capacity to understand the claim, has the resources and time to do so, and most importantly, cares about you as a client.
While the right to represent oneself is provided for in both civil and criminal proceedings, legal matters can be complex and quite the challenge for someone with no formal education or training in the law. We are all human and humans have emotions. Emotions can cloud even the best of judgment, especially when you are talking about things of financial nature. When personally invested, emotions combined with the complexities of the situation make it obvious that professional help is necessary.
Another layer to personal representation to consider is, whether you’re hiring a property damage attorney or a licensed public adjuster, the experts are an important piece of the puzzle. For litigation purposes, anything outside of “common knowledge” requires the hiring of an expert. Specialists and/or experts have one thing certain in common, years of education and training in their area of expertise that can be used objectively in the given situation.
Representing oneself is likely to end badly. Just because you have the time to handle a complicated property damage claim on your own absolutely doesn’t mean that you should. Attorneys who handle these types of cases work on a contingency fee which means you have no out of pocket expenses and they get paid when the case is settled. So, if you aren’t paying anything out of pocket, then why wouldn’t you hire an experienced attorney to handle the matter for you?
Cold weather is a bully and it will seriously expose the vulnerabilities in your home and launch its nasty attack. When extreme cold temperatures hit, so do the insurance claims. The cold weather can wreak havoc in the property insurance world because the claims that come in are usually spread throughout a very large portion of the country which means there is not a “pocket” of damage like we see when tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes or flooding occurs.
Winter’s cold weather claims naturally target homes that have a weaknesses and swallows them up as victims. This sounds like something from a horror movie but, if you think about it, this is true. When the extreme cold comes in, these deficiencies in your home become exploited and those vulnerable pieces are tested to the limits. The pipes that are not insulated well could freeze and burst, a small void in your fireplace might cause an ember to escape causing a fire, or it could be an electrical issue. Regardless of the weakness, old man winter is going to find it.
Here is a list of several areas that may be cause for concern:
• If you have plumbing in your attic or crawlspace, you need to make sure the pipes are adequately insulated.
• If the electrical system is not designed to handle the stress extreme cold causes, you may need an upgrade.
• If the home is not insulated well, additional areas of insulation may be a good idea.
These suggestions may be costly. Therefore, if you are unable to address them you may need to leave the water dripping, make sure your fireplace is functioning properly, and do your best not to stress the electrical components of the home.
Probably one of the biggest risks during winter storm season is the buildup from snow and ice. These perils are a threat to those big tree limbs overhanging the home which could break off causing major damage to the home. If you happen to escape winter this year without a limb falling on your house, consider yourself lucky and get those trees trimmed before the next storm season. You could also sustain damage from ice damning (buildup of ice accumulating at the bottom edge of roof). When the snow melts from the top, the damning causes a water back up under the shingles and into your home. Ice damns occur when the weather warms or heat from the attic space causes melting.
If old man winter does target you and cause damage to your home, you need to strongly consider using a public adjuster to comb through all damages and present this in the best possible way to your insurance company. By design, this should increase your chances for a fair settlement.
In summary, if you live in an area where it tends to get a lot of snow accumulation, consult with a roofer to devise a plan that is right for your home to reduce the risk of ice buildup on your home. Your house can handle the cold bully as long as you know where it may attack.
Out with the old and in with the new as we kick off 2017. Everyone is making New Year’s resolutions, including myself. Most of those include things like diet and exercise and more time with family and friends. Mine also includes better time management. This can apply to lots of areas of your daily life – personal and professional. Good time management includes not wasting time bothering with things someone else can do for you, such as handling a new or unsettled property insurance claim.
Did you know that there are professionals out there who are just waiting for you to contact them and they will do the work for you. There are licensed public adjusters, property damage attorneys, contents specialists, and other consultants and experts who will handle your claim for you. These various claim professionals can inspect, estimate, and/or negotiate your claim from start to finish or, depending on the situation, come in on a disputed or difficult claim and clean up the mess. A public adjuster is required to be licensed by the Department of Insurance (in most states) and is trained in reading your policy coverage. They have the knowledge, training, and expertise necessary to advocate on your behalf with no conflict of interest. Furthermore, they are a motivated advocate considering they work on a contingency fee basis and don’t get paid until you get paid.
Some people just don’t have time the deal with an insurance claim. More importantly though, most don’t have the knowledge and/or background to know what is covered in order to maximize payment of the claim. We use the word “maximize” your claim but what we really mean is get the claim paid fairly to begin with. So much gets left on the table, which goes right back into the insurance company’s pockets. That’s the way they want to keep it. Ask your agent or insurance adjuster and they will tell you that you don’t need to hire a public adjuster because they are going to take care of you. Well hire a public adjuster or other claim professional and see where the difference takes you. You just might be shocked.
If you have been so unfortunate to have experienced a fire lately then the situation may be even worse. The adjuster for the insurance company is likely going to hand you a sheet of paper and ask you to inventory all of your contents which were damaged by the fire. This includes the item description, brand, model and/or serial number, date purchased, place purchased, purchase price, age, condition, etc. We didn’t all just go out and fill an entire house overnight. These are things that we have accumulated over a lifetime of living in our home. This task isn’t as easy as one might think, especially when you get to what is in the drawers, doors, and closets. I mean seriously, I have 78 pairs of shoes and that doesn’t even count flip flops because those don’t count when the husband asks.
My time is valuable and I’m certain that yours is too. This New Year let’s all do ourselves a favor and maximize the use of our time doing what we are good at and leave what we aren’t to someone else.
A flood is never fun to deal with. When it comes to insurance claims, the worst type of claim you can have is a flood claim. Flooding causes a devastating amount of damage, compounded by the fact that you have limited coverage and it can take months to settle a claim. The following is a breakdown based upon my experience on what to expect during a typical flood claim.
How bad is the water itself?
The flood water is typically category 3 water, also referred to as “black water.” Category 3 water can include all kinds of contaminants such as gasoline, oils, sewage, other chemicals and harmful bacteria, salt (if you are on or near the ocean), etc. It is important that you not come in contact with this water or rebuild your home without first cleaning and treating all affected areas of the property that is not being removed or disposed of.
If flood waters touch it, is it damaged? Yes and no.
Any building components that absorbs water, building materials that cannot be cleaned, and electrical components are usually not salvageable. With respect to contents, simply put, don’t even attempt to clean category 3 water from clothing or soft goods because there are oils and chemicals that may never come out.
When should I start tearing out and disposing of things?
Do not remove anything from the home until you have taken an adequate number of photographs. When you believe that enough photos have been taken, take some more. This is the single most important task relating to contents coverage. First, take photographs of each room attempting to capture as much of the room as possible as is. Next take pictures of each item in each room where it sits, as well as an up close of the water line or visible water damage. Also make sure to open cabinets and photograph inside.
After you take photographs, be conservative when disposing of what you believe to be non-salvageable items. However, it is important to remove all non-salvageable contents, drywall, carpeting, insulation, etc., from the home as soon as you can once the flood water recedes. Leaving these items increases the risk of mold developing in the house. This can cause a HUGE problem as it can spread quickly and mold is not typically covered under a flood policy.
I cannot emphasize enough the impact of taking photos after a flood. The difference here is not just a few dollars. You risk full denial of contents if you don’t have photographs, including paper towels, toiletries, and socks. On these types of items, lay the items out and take close-up photos of each item. Considering the more expensive items like furniture, electronics, and appliances, be sure to take pictures including the brand, model number, and serial number. If there isn’t a brand, make sure the photo depicts the quality and any special features. These details will be the difference between the insurance adjuster accounting for a $400 washing machine or a $2,000 washing machine. Pictures are everything in a flood claim!
What is covered under my flood policy?
There are a lot of variables when it comes to the structure coverage – base flood elevation, the year the house was built or last renovated, flood zones, primary residency, basements, coinsurance, just to name a few. Assuming your house is properly insured, is your primary residence, has a slab foundation, does not have a basement, and is above the base flood elevation, you are basically covered for any structural item inside the exterior walls of the home.
It is necessary to purchase both building and contents coverage. The contents policy will cover most items inside the home or garage or any other anchored, fully enclosed building on the property, up to the contents policy limit. These do not include a swimming pool, fence, deck, barbeque grill, or trampoline.
Detached garages are covered, but only up to 10% of your structure policy limit and also falls within the structure limit of the policy, not in addition to. There is an exclusion of coverage if the detached garage includes an apartment above the garage, a bedroom in the back of the garage, or any other area that is used as living space. Flood policies also do not cover sheds or guest houses, unless separately insured.
Will my additional living expenses be covered?
Flood policies generally do not cover the costs of temporary living during the time that the property is uninhabitable. This can be the source of the most financial stress for most flood victims.
What can I expect from my adjuster meeting?
Assuming you get an experienced flood adjuster, they should inform you that they do not actually have any paying authority, but rather will make recommendations based on findings. A flood adjuster is the artist that will be painting the picture on what should be approved on the claim. If he is good at painting that picture, the claim should be approved based on those findings. A seasoned adjuster will typically have a certain way to conduct inspections. They will typically lead you room-by-room explaining what they are recommending and why (taking measurements, pictures, and thorough notes). You more than likely will not agree with everything they want to salvage, so be sure to take good notes on the items you are in disagreement.
What things will the adjuster disagree with?
These are the “hot topic” items. Items that typically get the most resistance from insurance adjusters include countertops, tile flooring, bathtubs, toilets, faucets, brick walls, wiring, windows, A/C units, hardwood furniture, and other expensive content items. Ask your insurance adjuster specifically about each of these items during your inspection and take notes.
How do I resolve these issues?
Assuming pictures have been taken of everything, resolving any issues could be much easier. However, it is important to hire an expert to document the areas you are disputing. Hiring a public adjuster to manage the entire claim for you is usually the best option.
How do I prepare my contents inventory?
On average, you can budget roughly 5 minutes per item to write up a thorough contents inventory. For each item, the adjuster will need the following information: location (room), description, brand/make, model number, serial number, age, condition, quantity, replacement price, and price verification (link to website to purchase item, original receipt, etc.). It is also a good idea to note which picture corresponds with each item on the inventory so that the insurance adjuster can easily find items.
Take the time to account for each and every item correctly and with as much detail as possible to insure the contents portion of the claim is paid quickly and undisputed. Remember that you are disposing of many of the non-salvageable contents once you have taken your pictures, therefore it is necessary to gather as much information as possible on each item. There is no going back once it is thrown into the pile on the curb.
Do I sign the proof of loss if I disagree with the adjuster?
Most seasoned flood adjusters or public adjusters will advise you to sign the proof of loss even if you are in disagreement because you are under a strict time limit to do so. You WILL NOT get paid until the signed proof of loss is submitted. Sign the proof of loss to receive payment on what the insurance adjuster has agreed (the undisputed amount). Then proceed by reopening the claim to request supplemental payment on the issues remaining in dispute.
How long will it be before I get my check?
Request an advance payment concerning both your building and contents coverages. Assuming there are no coverage issues to be determined, the adjuster should be able to get you an advance payment quickly.
Use the advance payments wisely because you most likely will not see another payment for months. Typically budget 3-4 months for the initial claim amount to be issued. Reopening the claim for supplementing the differences could add another few months. This is a normal flood claim and unfortunately there is nothing you can do to expedite the process.
I repaired my property, but what if it floods again?
There is coverage on everything which was replaced considering proof of replacement can be provided. If you had 3 feet of flood water in your home, the adjuster will not assume that you replaced the drywall, you will be required to provide proof. Therefore, it is important to keep good records of all receipts, as well as date-stamped photographs while repair and reconstruction is underway (in case you go back with items that are very similar to what you had originally). Store these documents in a safe place (or other location) so that the next incident doesn’t destroy these records).
Keep your head up.
Handling a flood claim is very stressful and the financial impact can be crippling if the claim is not managed properly. Keep your head up! Have a plan, stay organized, and surround yourself with good people who can guide you through this tragedy.
Click here for a copy of the National Flood Insurance Program Dwelling Form Standard Insurance Policy, October 2015.
Several insureds have explained that, but for the assistance of their claim professional, they would not have received a fair settlement for their loss. HIRE A PUBLIC ADJUSTER (OR OTHER CLAIM PROFESSIONAL) IN EVERY MAJOR INSURANCE CLAIM!
Your world can be turned upside down the day of a loss and you may be completely overwhelmed by the destruction to your home and consumed with concern for the wellbeing of your family and pets. You more than likely have more questions than answers and don’t know where to turn. You need professional assistance.
Documenting a catastrophic loss is both time-consuming and burdensome to even the most sophisticated insured. Listing and describing everything you lost and how much it will cost to repair/replace each item takes more effort than most people realize. However, it must be done or you won’t get paid the insurance dollars you’re entitled to.
It is hard for you, the insured, to know whether or not you are getting all that is owed under your policy. A qualified advocate on your side can be your voice in the process and give you more input and negotiating leverage. Instead of relying on the insurance company to decide how much you get to rebuild your home, hiring a claim professional on your side can help you receive the best possible settlement.
Visit Claimside.com which serves as a road map to finding the professional claim help you need.
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