The Gulf Coast is prone to hurricanes. Of all the forces of nature, hurricanes can be the most devastating because they bring with them the fury of wind and water, both. Hurricanes cause damage to life and property. Hurricane insurance offers cover against damage caused by hurricanes. However, when the time for honoring claims comes, many insurance companies choose to underpay, delay, or reject claims.
Unfair denial of hurricane insurance benefits is grounds for a bad faith insurance lawsuit that can help you obtain just compensation for the cover you have signed up for. Big hurricanes such as Ike, Sandy, and Katrina bring with them payment costs worth billions of dollars. Insurance companies try very hard to escape making such massive payments.
WHAT DO I NEED TO DO IN CASE OF A HURRICANE?
1) HOW SHOULD I INSPECT MY PROPERTY?
If you’ve been displaced, do not return to your property until local authorities have declared the area safe. Dangers include downed power lines, broken gas lines, hidden debris, structural damage, electrical issues, standing water, and shifting earth. If you smell gas in the air, leave the area immediately and report it to authorities. If you have suffered water damage or other damage in your roof, walls, or foundation, contact an electrician before flipping any switches.
Contact your local authorities at 3-1-1 to determine if it is safe to return to your area. If it is deemed safe, take pictures of any damage to the structure and your belongings, paying particular attention to valuables. If you are able to safely do so, limit further damage by applying a tarp to cover holes in your home or building.
2) I CAN’T RETURN HOME RIGHT NOW. HOW DO I PAY FOR THIS MOTEL?
If your home isn’t habitable after the storm, your insurance policy may provide for “Additional Living Expense” or “ALE” coverage. This could pay for temporary lodging, such as motels or hotels. Review your policy and contact your insurance company to see if you have this coverage, as well as its limits. Keep all receipts.
3) HOW SHOULD I COMMUNICATE WITH MY INSURANCE COMPANY?
It is best to communicate with your insurance company about claims in writing to remove any argument as to when you contacted them and what you said. This could be by email, fax, or certified mail (return receipt requested). Keep an extra hard copy of all communications sent in your personal file. Also, keep all written material received from the insurance company or agent, including envelopes showing the post marked date. For any oral communications, like phone calls or in-person conversations with the insurance agent or adjuster, note what was said and who said it in a written log. Send a follow-up email to the insurance company confirming the discussion. Build an organized paper trail so it is clear exactly what was said, who said it, and when it was said.
4) HOW AND WHEN SHOULD I FILE MY INSURANCE CLAIM?
You should file a property insurance claim as soon as you discover damage. Tell the insurance company that your home or business suffered damage as a result of Hurricane Harvey and that this communication is intended to serve as notice of your claim. Include your full name, address, and insurance policy number, if you have it with you. You do not have to wait to file a claim until you have pictures of damage. The important thing is that as soon as you discover damage, put the insurance company on notice by filing your claim.
You should not delay in filing your claim. Our insurance laws are changing for the worse on September 1, 2017, when House Bill 1774 goes into effect (see SECTION 4 of the bill at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/…/85R/bill…/html/HB01774F.htm
You may have suffered both wind and water damage. File a claim with every property insurance company you have. Flood insurance is sold separately from your homeowners policy. Property owners along the coast may have yet another insurance policy with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association to cover windstorm damage. Locate all of your insurance policies and put every insurance company who has taken your money on notice with a written claim if you have suffered damage.
5) WHAT DOES THE BLUE TARP BILL DO?
Texas House Bill 1774, better known as the “Blue Tarp Bill,” slashes penalties on property insurers that drag out payment on claims; forces many insurance cases into our backlogged and understaffed federal courts, where it takes twice as long to receive justice; imposes additional costs on property owners; and may make it harder for them to find a lawyer willing to take their case. It does nothing to ensure property claims related to weather are paid on time or in full, meaning it effectively punishes homeowners and business owners in our state. Bottom line, it is a bill that insurance industry lobbyists wanted, and the Texas Legislature and Governor Abbott gave it to them.
6) HOW DO I CHECK OUT CONTRACTORS?
After storms, roofers, public adjusters, and other contractors may start advertising their services in neighborhoods. It is important to ensure these contractors are reputable and established. Ask for references and call those given. Check to make sure the contractor carries insurance or a bond, and ask for evidence of this. Look them up on services like Angie’s List, the Better Business Bureau, or Yelp to see others’ experiences with them. Multiple written estimates — detailing the scope of work, materials, and labor needed — from reputable contractors can be helpful in determining the full extent of damage and whether your insurance company is offering a sufficient claims payment to make repairs.
7) HOW DO I CHECK OUT LAWYERS?
If your insurance company is giving you the run around, low balling, or stiff arming you, you may need to contact an attorney. The State Bar of Texas offers a toll-free referral hotline at 800-252-9690 . You can look for lawyers at this State Bar website: www.texasbar.com/findalawyer
Ask the lawyer about their experience in handling first party insurance claims, check to see if they carry professional liability insurance, and ask for references and call those provided. It is important to know that attorney advertisements are regulated by the State Bar and solicitation of cases is strictly prohibited under the law.
8) SHOULD I DEPOSIT THIS INSURANCE CHECK?
If an insurance company sends you a check, read it and any paperwork very carefully before depositing. If it states “claims payment,” “claims settlement,” or “claims release” do not deposit the check unless you are satisfied with the amount.
9) WHAT ARE SOME OTHER INSURANCE RESOURCES?
The Texas Department of Insurance has a “Help After Harvey” page atwww.tdi.texas.gov/consumer/storms/helpafterharvey.html
They can also be reached at 1-800-252-3439 . The Office of Public Insurance Counsel, the state-funded policyholder advocate, can be reached at 1-877-611-6742 or www.opic.texas.gov.
FEMA has set up this link to volunteer for hurricane Irma.
Policy owners are not qualified to tackle tactics insurance companies deploy in matters of disputed claims for issues such as water damage, toxic mold, roof damage, structural damage, foundation repair, etc. Common excuses offered by insurance companies to deny your claim include attributing hurricane damage to other factors such as floods, waves, surface water, and tidal water. We know, because we are in the business of helping clients get fair compensation for hurricane damage.
If your property is near the coast, then the building is susceptible to storm surges. Even otherwise flash floods can cause intensive structural damage.
If you wish to gain accurate information about where you stand with respect to the claim you have submitted, the attorneys at Alex R. Hernandez Jr. Trial Lawyers can help you. We can represent you legally and help you work to get the claim money so that your financial and personal life comes back on track as early as possible. Sometimes, a lawsuit is not necessary. Based on our assessment of your case, it is possible that the insurance company may agree that it has erred and agree to pay the claim amount to avoid a litigation process.
Insurance law can be hard to decode and navigating a way out to arrive at an efficient solution that gets your claim reimbursed requires expertise and experience. We’ve got it.
Call today 1-888-HDZ-LAW-8 to reach Alex R. Hernandez Jr. your hurricane claims attorney.
Alex R. Hernandez Jr. is a Federal licensed attorney and State of Texas licensed attorney
921 N. Chaparral Suite 100 Corpus Christi, Texas 78401Phone: 361-400-0178