Common Pitfalls in Hurricane Insurance Claims: How Florida Homeowners Can Avoid Them

Fri May 17th, 2024 on     Insurance Claims,    

As homeowners in Florida know, it’s hurricane season, and windstorms and rainfall can cause catastrophic damage to personal property. If a disaster-related claim arises, protective insurance coverage can make all the difference, but the claims process is sometimes filled with landmines for the policyholder that can result in delays or lowballed claim payments. Understanding the most frequent policyholder mistakes – and how to avoid these traps – can be the difference between disaster and a smooth claims recovery process.

1. Found a Cheap Policy? You Still Need to Understand the Details

Pitfall: Buying the cheapest insurance is one of homeowners’ biggest mistakes because they often don’t read and understand exactly what they’re buying. Policies are full of little-understood technical terms, conditions, and exclusions.

Solution: Read your policy, and if something doesn’t sound right, call your insurance agent to have him or her explain the exact coverage to you. It’s also important to be clear on coverage limits, deductibles, and excluded circumstances before the need to make a claim arises. Knowing exactly what things are and are not covered by your policy before a storm strikes prevents unpleasant back-and-forth scenarios with the insurer later on. 

2. Inadequate Documentation of the Property

Pitfall: Far too few homeowners note their home’s value as it existed before a hurricane. Without documentation, your argument that your losses were as great as they appear may fall on deaf ears.  

Solution: Create a complete inventory of your home and its contents, ideally containing photographs or videos of your property and items. Identify the important things and note the receipt, serial number, and other specifics. Save the inventory in an easily accessible and protected location (such as on a cloud service) so that you can access it even if your house is damaged. 

3. Not Taking Immediate Post-Hurricane Action

Pitfall: Procrastination also causes problems. If you wait too long, damage will worsen, and your claims process will become much more difficult. If you experience a hurricane, water leak, sewage backup, fire, explosion, or other disaster that results in water damage, take some active steps to minimize the damage. Contact your insurance agent or claims representative, and don’t wait for the damage to become more severe, as that will make the claims process more difficult than it should be.

Solution: After a hurricane, promptly assess and document the damage to your property. Take photos and videos of all affected areas before making any temporary repairs to prevent further damage. Notify your insurance company as soon as possible to initiate the claims process. Most policies require timely reporting of damage, so don’t delay.

4. Disposing of Damaged Items Prematurely

Pitfall: In the rush to clean up after a hurricane, some homeowners dispose of damaged items before the insurance adjuster has a chance to inspect them. This can complicate the claims process and potentially reduce the amount of compensation you receive.

Solution: Do not throw anything out before your claims adjuster has seen it. If you do not want the item to remain at your house because it is a hazard, be sure to document it properly first by taking clear photos and maintaining a specific, clear accounting of what you removed, its condition, and its value.

5. Underreporting or Overestimating Damage

Pitfall: Accurately reporting the extent of damage is critical. That being the case, some homeowners may underreport damage, thinking it will speed up the claims process, while others might overestimate damage, expecting a higher payout. Both approaches can lead to issues.

Solution: Be honest and accurate when reporting the extent of the damage to your insurance company. Use your documentation to provide a clear picture of the damage. If you’re unsure about the severity of certain damages, consider hiring a professional to assess your property and provide a detailed report.

6. Not Keeping Proper Records of Communication

Pitfall: Failure to keep records of all communications with your insurance company can lead to misunderstandings and disputes. Verbal agreements and informal conversations can be easily forgotten or misinterpreted.

Solution: Such a log might include the date, time, name of the adjustor or other representative of the insurance company, your communications (discussions, demands, etc.), and anything else you want to keep track of. Also, save all written communications (letters, emails) and documents (loss logs, proofs of claim, etc.). You may need such records if your claim is disputed or delayed.

7. Overlooking Additional Living Expenses (ALE)

Pitfall: Many homeowners are unaware that their policy may cover additional living expenses (ALE) if they are displaced from their home due to hurricane damage. As a result, they may not claim these expenses or fail to keep adequate records.

Solution: Check your policy. ALE generally covers temporary housing, food, laundry, and other increased living expenses. Maintain detailed records and invoices for all out-of-pocket expenses you paid during your displacement and forward those to your insurer with your claim. 

8. Accepting the First Settlement Offer

Pitfall: In the eagerness to resolve their claim, some homeowners may accept the first settlement offer from their insurance company without fully understanding if it adequately covers their losses.

Solution: Simply put — don’t take the first offer. Read the offer carefully. Review it in light of your own documentation of losses. If you think the offer is too low, show evidence and negotiate with your insurer or retain a Miami insurance recovery attorney to negotiate for you. 

9. Not Preparing for Disputes

Pitfall: Assuming that the claims process will be straightforward can leave homeowners unprepared for potential disputes. Denied claims or disagreements over the payout amount can be frustrating and time-consuming.

Solution: Plan for delays and disputes. Know what you’re entitled to, and understand your options if your claim is denied or if you think the insurer’s estimate is lower than what’s on the table. It might mean suing your insurer, or you could call in a mediator or a lawyer who works with insurance claims. 

10. Failing to Mitigate Further Damage

Pitfall: Some homeowners mistakenly believe that they should not make any repairs until after the insurance adjuster has inspected their property. However, failing to take steps to prevent further damage can lead to additional losses and complications with your claim.

Solution: Take steps to minimize further damage until your insurer can reach the property to assess the damage. For example, this means boarding up windows or putting a tarp over the roof. Be sure to take pictures of repairs and keep any receipts for materials or services obtained.   

Contact a Miami Insurance Recovery Attorney Today for Immediate Assistance

Though the process of filing hurricane insurance claims can be long, drawn-out, and frustrating, knowledge of the pitfalls, having a plan in place, and knowing what to do post-hurricane will ensure that you recover the appropriate amount of compensation. Timeliness and proper communication with your insurer and your Miami insurance recovery attorney are key to getting appropriate compensation for the damages sustained. Contact our office today.

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