Now that the danger from Hurricane Matthew has passed, the cleanup – and insurance claims – processes begin. Hurricane Matthew skirted just east of Jacksonville as a category 3 storm, causing an estimated $70 million in damages in Duval County alone. Counties further to the south, including St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia suffered even worse damage as the storm passed closer to their coasts.
Businesses and houses were flooded, roofs were damaged, oceanfront homes lost their entire backyards, trees fell, and signs were destroyed. There will be thousands of insurance claims in the Jacksonville area. Most of them will be adjusted and paid fairly; however, others will not.
Despite the fact that Floridians pay extraordinarily high insurance rates to take into account the threat of hurricanes, some insurers look for every excuse possible to avoid paying claims. It is important that you don’t give them ammunition to do so.
We recommend you take the following steps:
- File your claim immediately – Although phone lines will be extremely busy, it is necessary that you file your claim without delay. Furthermore, you should not pay for any repairs before your insurance company has had an opportunity to do so unless it is absolutely necessary, like a large hole in your roof or a shattered window.
- Document your losses – If you have items that have been destroyed, it is important to photograph them and not throw them away unless absolutely necessary. Most homeowners’ insurance policies include “contents” coverage which applies to pay for the loss of personal property include clothes, furniture, appliances and electronics.
- Make an inventory of damaged property. The insurer is going to require that you make a list of the property that was lost or damaged. This can be a very difficult thing to do given all of the items in a home. If you can provide receipts for items, do so, but realize that receipts are not a requirement to recovering for their loss.
- Do not give an “examination under oath” without consulting with an attorney. Insurance policies routinely require that the insured person cooperate with the insurer regarding any claims. In addition, the insurer is typically allowed to take your statement under oath. If your insurance company makes this request, be aware that it is almost always because the insurer thinks that some sort of fraud may have occurred. It is important to understand the legal and factual issues involved before you give such a statement. Otherwise, a valid claim may be denied due to a simple misunderstanding.
- Do not accept shoddy repairs. Sometimes, an insurance company will attempt to patch a problem (especially roofs), when more extensive repairs, or replacement, is necessary. Before agreeing to have any work performed, review the scope of the proposed work and make certain the proposal adequately addresses the problem. We recommend you consult with a contractor to ensure that the damage is being completely and appropriately remedied.
- If the insurance company denies your claim, contact a lawyer that focuses on handling insurance claims. Every case we have against an insurer starts with a claim denial. Usually, the insurer puts its reason for denying a claim in writing. The denial letter along with a copy of your insurance policy is usually all that an insurance claims lawyer needs to evaluate your prospects of success in a lawsuit.
- Ask your lawyer if he or she will handle the claim on a contingency basis. Florida Statute 627.428 provides that a person who successfully sues his or her insurer is entitled to recover attorney fees in addition to the amount of the loss or damage. Because of this provision, our firm often takes insurance cases without any payment from the client and we agree that we will only get paid if we are successful and, once successful, the insurer and not the client, will pay the fee. If you have any questions, please contact our lawyers for a free consultation. We handle insurance claims throughout the greater Jacksonville area including Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Nassau, Flagler, Volusia and Putnam counties.