If You've Been a Victim of Fire or Water Damage
Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. We have all heard the catchy jingle. We’d like to think that, in times of trouble, our insurance companies will be there to protect us. After all, isn’t that what we’re promised? But what happens when your insurance company isn’t there for you when you need it?
If you’ve run into a series of unfortunate events and are stuck with water damage from flooding, you might be wondering what to do after a flood. Likely, you’ve already had to file a flood insurance claim, but you might be wondering what to expect next. Below, you’ll find some common things you can expect from insurance companies during the flood insurance claim process and some tips on what to do next. And given these difficulties that you’ll likely run into with insurance companies, you might find that you’ll need a flood insurance lawyer.
If you read our previous blog post about how to file an insurance claim, you will know that one of our tips was to document your home extensively to prepare for the worst, especially when you do upgrades. This comes in handy when an insurer tries to lowball your rebuilding and/or replacement cost. An insurer cannot substitute cheaper materials or workmanship in estimating the costs to repair your home. For example, an insurance adjuster cannot put down that you have laminate flooring when you had hardwood flooring. If the damage to your home is a total loss or even if certain parts of the home are a total loss, you could be losing out on its value. And without any proof documenting your upgrades, you’ll surely be losing out.
If you feel your insurance company is lowballing you on repairs, get a second opinion from a licensed contractor. Usually, contractors won’t make you pay for an estimate and you can always provide this information to your insurance company as a comparative estimate. They are required to review your repair estimate and adjust your claim accordingly.
You’ve suffered a loss; you’ve filed your claim and you feel like your insurance company is just dragging its feet in settling your claim. You don’t get calls back or responses to your emails, or maybe you just haven’t received an affirmation or denial of coverage six months down the road. Keep track of all phone calls, both incoming and outgoing, to insurance and keep copies of all correspondence that you receive. Insurance companies have deadlines of 15 days when it comes to answering your correspondences. You always have the option to escalate the matter by speaking to the claim adjuster’s supervisor if you feel that your claim is not being handled correctly.
If your insurance adjuster does not tell you to retain certain items they cannot come back months later requesting those same items. You did not have a duty to retain the item and this is a tactic that insurance companies like to use to either delay a claim or deny it. Insurance companies have a duty to conduct a full and complete investigation and requesting information or items that they know are no longer available is just flat out wrong.
Insurers cannot deny a claim without providing an explanation for the denial. Make sure you read those denials carefully as sometimes an insurer will provide some policy or provision that is unenforceable because there is a law that overrides it. An insurance favorite is “wear and tear” but most people don’t know that there are covered losses under the ensuing loss provision. If you feel you are right, do not take no for an answer and get a second opinion. Insurance companies will try and redirect you to a policy provision that does not apply to your claim in order to deny it outright, however, your loss could be covered under some other policy provisions. Having someone who understands the language of the policy is helpful to make sure your claim is paid out.
Insurers cannot reduce your benefits by depreciating items that would normally not be replaced over the useful life of the property. Think of items like the framing of your home or the expense of labor. You have a right to know how they are calculating the depreciation and how they are calculating their settlement offers. We might sound like a broken record, but if you do not understand their documentation, ask for an explanation and/or get a second opinion.
Given the importance of a second opinion, where can you actually get one? You can hire either a public adjuster or a water damage lawyer.
A public claim adjuster can handle every portion of your claim, they can clarify your policy, assess your property damage and negotiate with your insurance company to get you a fair settlement. They are limited in what they can do, however, for example, they cannot force your insurance company to pay out more on your claim.
Did you know that an attorney can help you in the same way a public adjuster can? Most people think that attorneys can only be used if you need to file a lawsuit. That is not always the case and an insurance attorney can act in almost the same capacity as a public adjuster. Attorneys have experts and the understanding of the law as tools to provide more value to your claim and in some cases get your claim paid out. They may even be able to help you get paid out under other types of coverage for items you didn’t even think would be part of your claim!
If you feel that your insurance company is treating you unfairly, don’t waste a moment longer and get that second opinion. As a policyholder, you deserve all the benefits and insurance coverage afforded to you in your insurance policy. As experienced insurance attorneys, the Fire & Flood team can help represent you and make sure that you aren’t being taken advantage of when you file your flood insurance claim.