Hello, fellow Floridians! As a property damage lawyer with years of experience under my belt, I’ve seen firsthand the devastation hurricanes can bring to our beautiful state. But what often adds to the stress post-hurricane is the uphill battle many property owners face when trying to get a fair settlement from their insurance companies. That’s why I’ve put together this guide to help you navigate the complex world of insurance claims and maximize your recovery.
1. Understand Your Policy Inside and Out
Before anything else, it’s crucial to know what your insurance policy covers. Not all policies are created equal, and the specifics can vary widely.
- Building vs. Business Personal Property: It’s essential to distinguish between building coverage, which pertains to the physical structure, including the roof, and Business Personal Property (BPP) coverage, which covers the contents within the building. Damage to both the structure and contents may occur, and it’s crucial to claim for each separately.
- Flood Coverage: Most standard commercial policies exclude flood damage, which can occur alongside storm damage to the roof. If your commercial property is located in a flood-prone area, ensure you have a separate flood insurance policy to cover such eventualities.
- Business Interruption Coverage: Unlike residential policies, commercial policies may offer business interruption coverage, which compensates for lost income and extra expenses incurred if your business is temporarily unable to operate due to damage. Understanding and leveraging this coverage can significantly contribute to your recoverable damages.
- Code Upgrade or Ordinance and Law Coverage: This coverage can be crucial if your commercial building needs upgrades to meet current building codes during the repair process. Knowing whether your policy includes this coverage and to what extent can significantly impact the amount you can claim.
2. Document Everything
When it comes to insurance claims, the more evidence you have, the better.
- Photographic Evidence: Take clear photos of all the damage, both external and internal. This provides a visual record that’s hard for insurance adjusters to dispute.
- Inventory: Make a list of damaged items, their value, and replacement costs. If you have receipts or any proof of purchase, even better.
- Keep Records: Any communication with your insurance company should be documented. This includes emails, letters, and even notes from phone conversations.
- Weather Reports: Collect local weather reports from the days of the hurricane. This can further validate your claim, especially if there are discrepancies later on.
3. Working with Adjusters
Insurance adjusters are professionals sent by your insurance company to assess the damage. While they might seem friendly, remember they work for the insurer, not for you.
- Independent Assessment: Before the adjuster’s visit, consider getting an independent assessment of the damage from a public adjuster or engineer. This gives you a benchmark to compare against the insurance adjuster’s estimate.
- Accompany the Adjuster: When the adjuster visits, accompany them. Point out all damages and ensure they don’t miss anything.
- Ask Questions: Don’t hesitate to ask the adjuster questions about the process, their assessment, and the next steps. The more informed you are, the better.
- Remember They Are Not Your Friend: A insurance adjuster works for the insurance company. Do not forget that. No matter how friendly they seem to be, anything you say in the presence of the insurance adjuster can be used against you in the claims process. Speak to an attorney if you are unsure how to act when an insurance adjuster is sent to your property.
4. Estimating Repair Costs
This is where many property owners and managers feel out of their depth. But with a bit of diligence, you can ensure you get a fair estimate.
- Multiple Quotes: Don’t just settle for one repair quote. Get multiple estimates from reputable contractors. This gives you a clearer picture of the actual repair costs.
- Detailed Breakdown: Ensure each quote provides a detailed breakdown of labor and material costs. This transparency can be a valuable tool when negotiating with your insurance company.
- Long-Term Impact: Consider the long-term impact of the damage. For instance, water damage might lead to mold, which can be a health hazard and require additional remediation costs.
5. Advocating for a Fair Settlement
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the insurance company might offer a settlement that’s way below what you expected.
- Don’t Accept Right Away: If you feel the offer is unfair, you don’t have to accept it immediately. You have the right to dispute the amount.
- Seek Expert Help: This is where professionals like us at Tighe P.A. come in. We specialize in property damage cases and can help you navigate the negotiation process, ensuring you get a fair deal.
Example: After Hurricane Irma, a homeowner in Naples found that his insurance company was offering a settlement that wouldn’t even cover half the repair costs. By seeking legal assistance, he was able to negotiate a much higher settlement, which allowed him to fully repair his home without dipping into his savings.
6. Timely Claim Settlements
Time is of the essence after a hurricane. You want to get back to normalcy as soon as possible.
- Know the Time Limits: Insurance policies often have deadlines for filing claims. Ensure you’re aware of these and file your claim promptly.
- Stay Proactive: Regularly follow up with your insurance company. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say.
- Document Delays: If your insurance company is dragging its feet, document every delay. This can be useful if you need to take legal action later on.
7. The Importance of Legal Counsel
While many property owners manage to navigate the insurance claim process on their own, having legal counsel can be a game-changer, especially for complex claims.
- Legal Expertise: Lawyers specializing in property damage claims understand the nuances of insurance laws and can advocate for your rights more effectively.
- Negotiation Power: Insurance companies are more likely to take your claim seriously if they know you have legal representation.
- Peace of Mind: Knowing you have an expert on your side can provide peace of mind during an already stressful time.
8. Preparing for Future Hurricanes
While dealing with current damage is paramount, it’s also essential to think about the future. Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, and it’s only a matter of time before the next one hits.
- Review Your Policy: Once your current claim is settled, review your insurance policy. Are there gaps in your coverage? Are there areas where you could benefit from additional protection?
- Property or Building Improvements: Consider investing in improvements that can withstand future hurricanes. This could include storm shutters, reinforced roofing, or even upgrading to impact-resistant windows.
- Emergency Fund: If possible, set aside an emergency fund. This can be a financial safety net, helping cover costs while you’re waiting for your insurance claim to be settled.
Hurricanes are an unfortunate reality for us in Florida. While we can’t prevent them, we can arm ourselves with knowledge to ensure that in their aftermath, we’re not left battling with insurance companies alone. By understanding your policy, meticulously documenting damage, working effectively with adjusters, and seeking expert help when needed, you can maximize your insurance claim recovery.
Remember, your commercial property is more than just bricks and mortar; it’s an investment safeguarding your financial future. It deserves full restoration to its former glory. Stay safe, stay informed, and rest assured that firms like Tighe P.A. are always here to assist you through the complex terrain of property damage claims, ensuring your commercial assets are well-protected.