The winds associated with Hurricane Matthew were intense, and depending on where you look in the wake of Matthew’s path, the damage is severe and overwhelming. Certain areas in the US have also experienced the flood damage Matthew brought ashore. As I write this blog, many are still without power and some have not even been able to return home to see the damage. Matthew spared many from a brutal attack, and yet where strong bands touched, it caused significant damage and most unfortunately the loss of life both in the US and abroad.
The property damage evaluations and the amounts of loss for the Southeast US have not yet been quantified, and it is too soon to know the full impact of Matthew here on our soil, but what we know for sure is that people are resilient and there have been great reports of people helping people and community efforts in the evacuation and displacement process.
Here are a few things that have come to our attention in the wake of Matthew for property damage claims:
1. Notice is important. Check out my prior post on Matthew here: Giving Your Insurance Company Notice of your Loss.
2. Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. Shingles blown off the roof can mean a bigger problem. Signs blown down from your business may be an indicator too. Wind uplift can compromise a roof, and losing shingles can be a symptom of breach in your roof. The sun has been shining after Matthew, and you may not realize how badly your roof is damaged. The naked eye gaze from the ground does not count as a proper building or roof evaluation. Have your roof checked by a qualified and dedicated specialist who will take the time to do an evaluation and not simply tell you “your roof was at the end of its natural life span” or “that leak seems old and not related to the storm.” Due diligence is required. The same goes for commercial roofs. These systems can be complicated, and an inadequate evaluation will not show the wind damage to the building.
3. Deductible speak? Your insurance company may try to intimidate you and tell you that you have a 2% or 5% hurricane deductible, and warn you that you may be too low to have a claim. If the person on the telephone can dissuade you from filing a claim, the insurance company’s responsibilities to you are NONE. With claims coming in from multiple states, of course the insurance companies want the claim numbers to be lower so they have less to address and pay. By stopping claims at the call-in stage, they save resources by not sending a licensed adjuster out for an inspection, and do not have to report this to the state or their reinsurance company. Maybe you are not so bad off as compared to your neighbor, but your loss should be thoroughly evaluated with an on-site inspection before anyone tells you the claim is too low.
4. You must mitigate your loss the right way. You have a duty to mitigate your loss. Think of this as making sure you do not do things that will let the property get worse. A word of caution though: Do not dispose of things until both of your insurance companies (flood and wind) make it to your property, and you have it in writing from them you can dispose of items. While it may be so obvious to you that your personal items or business inventory are ruined, the insurance company may not agree if the items are long gone.
5. Wind and water both hit your home or business. In the flood and wind claims, you will be dealing with two different policies, two different sets of provisions, and likely two different adjusters from companies probably overloaded or sending out brand-new adjusters. With a double hit like wind and flood, you will need to be your own advocate and consider consulting with an adjuster who works for you, because it is likely that each insurer will tell you the problem is not their problem. Check out my post, Three Reasons to Hire a Public Adjuster
6. Flood losses are special. If you have flood damage, you need to be intimately familiar with the National Flood Program Requirements. A flood claim is very different from the loss you may have handled when you had a leak in your kitchen. Strict deadlines apply to these claims and specific forms must be filled out and submitted not only on a timely basis, but with precision. Getting help from your own licensed insurance adjuster can really help you on these claims. Additional experts may be needed in these losses too. A good reference is our Merlin blog, and our attorneys who have handled an incredible number of flood losses from Superstorm Sandy can answer your questions.
7. Your signature is incredibly powerful. Understand what you sign! In the wake of the storm, many people want your autograph. Please look before you leap and educate yourself before you sign. Some of the red flags to look for are agreements with professionals not licensed and are asking for carte blanche power to “take over you claim”. Yes, you need to mitigate your damage, but you need to understand how a company will specifically help you, how much it will cost, and whether they can really help or if they are a company started ten days ago. Also watch for final release language from your insurance company on forms and checks. A good tip is to clarify in writing that any payment by your insurance company is a partial payment, and not the full and final indemnity payment.
The best advice is to trust your intuition, make informed decisions and consult when you need help. Doing these things in a catastrophe situation can be difficult and stressful, but can save you in the long run.