Hurricane Matthew is headed to my hometown as I write this blog. I am sure getting this blog out is being a little “late to the party” but who really believes the hurricane is going to hit until about now 24 hours before the storm. I am still suspicious that it will turn eastward and miss us. But it isn’t true. Storms do hit major population centers and the damages they cause are extensive. The worst thing that happens is the loss of life and terrible injuries that can occur both during but often after the storm subsides. After Super-storm Sandy tore up the Atlantic Coast far more people were injured in the aftermath (150 deaths and damage to over 650,000 homes!) That big storm delivered a literal $50 billion dollar loss to American Homes, Property and businesses and was the second-costliest storm in U.S. history, just behind Hurricane Katrina. The problem with Hurricanes is three-fold. They combine gale force wind, with gigantic amounts of water over an extended period of time. On top of that they have micro storms that brew up tornados inside the hurricane just to cause more damage then you could imagine. Your best bet to stay safe during a hurricane is to leave before it gets to you. The second best bet is to seek safe shelter and wait it out – ALL THE WAY OUT, and not go outside during the eye passing over your area.
The only way to prepare your home for the damages caused by a hurricane is to baton-down the hatches, put up your shutters (hopefully you have hurricane protection for your windows and doors!) and then make sure you have a full array of insurance to cover the losses that come with a hurricane.
There are two major type of insurance you may need.
The first is Flood Insurance
The bigger of the two problems is water. Flooding kills everything in its path. Property, people, pets. Everything. The flood can come from a storm surge or a broken water main, a flooded river, or a dyke that gives way. Now, as long as you stay above the flood you will be safe. But what are you going to do afterwards, because when your property is destroyed by rising water, regardless of the cause it will usually not be covered under the regular home insurance policy. Therefore, to get this coverage you need to purchase a separate policy specific for floods. There are areas of the world which are prone to flood. Those areas are forced to buy flood insurance if you have a mortgage on your home. But if you aren’t in a flood zone you may not have flood insurance, which is going to pose a problem with respect to a hurricane. Unfortunately, as I write this blog we are in “THE BOX” and that means no policies can be written at this time. However, most flood insurance policies have a 30-day waiting period so it is too late for Matthew. If you survive this scare, go guy a Flood Policy. If you do get walloped, and suffer water damage your homeowners policy will likely deny your damage claim. Our firm as fought those claims to a successful resolution for our clients. There is no guarantee and they are not easy, but we don’t like to have homeowners get stuck with a huge bill when they had any type of hurricane insurance, so call us if your homeowners insurance company gives you a hard time.
The second type of insurance covers WIND Damage. That is the essence of all damages under a homeowners policy and should be the insurance that covers your roof and property damages caused by the impact of the hurricane itself.
However, your homeowners policy may carry a special “Hurricane Deductible.” Many battles between Insurance attorneys and insurance adjusters have been waged on this aspect of property damage claims. This is true for most homes that reside along the coast line. The difference between the typical homeowners deductibles and a hurricane deductible is that the regular deductible is simply a set dollar amount while the “hurricane deductible” is a percentage of a home’s value. Which means, as your home goes up in value (this has been happening in Florida for a while now) the amount of money you are responsible for is also going up! Here is an interesting fact: In Hurricane Sandy, when the storm hit the northeast it was no longer considered a hurricane. That distinction and definition saved homeowners thousands of dollars because the hurricane deductible did not apply and on the regular deductible applied. Now, do not be fooled into believing the Insurance company made that decision willingly. They wanted to apply the hurricane deductible to all homeowners and it was the Trial Lawyers who forced them to recognize the distinction (which was in their policy) and abide by their own rules. You should go check your policy to see if it has a hurricane deductible, what the percentage is, and what your home is valued out right now. Then figure out if you can meet that responsibility! It may be a LOT of money!
Now preparing for a hurricane is easy. Lock down your house, INVENTORY (We can link this to another page all about how to make an inventory) ALL YOUR STUFF and LEAVE! Remember to make a full inventory. You need proof of all your property. No one will believe you had expensive equipment and computers and such unless you have proof. Photos with receipts is best, but just a video of all your property will be a good start. We all have cell phones. Go video your house and all its contents!
If you can’t leave, or you want to ride out the storm, you should consider having a Hurricane Emergency Box of Supplies with the following stuff inside it.
3 or more flashlights, multiple sets of batteries
Dry Goods, Bagged foods, box & bottled drinks
A small fire extinguisher
Cellular phone and extra battery charger. Keep it off until you need it.
A few fun games to pass the time (cards, monopoly, etc.)
AFTER the HURRICANE finally leaves you MUST JUMP into ACTION
First make sure you have safe and secure lodging. Are electric lines down? Do you have standing water? Do you smell gas? Are trees looking unsteady? Are animals running loose and are they afraid or wild? Beware, lost animals can be aggressive after a hurricane. If you are bitten go to the ER immediately. Are there rodents coming out to eat the food that is now rotting in the streets? Even a cat scratch can turn deadly without treatment. Is there debris that can fall or break and harm you? Are the damages so severe that bad people are drawn to your area to take advantage of the hurricane damage? Don’t turn on any lights, start any fires, create any dangerous condition until you are aware of all these factors. Make sure you and your family are safe and secure before you stick around and get hurt. Also, look at your policy. Most homeowners policies will pay for reasonable lodging if the home is not in a condition where living in it is reasonable. If you stay and need to boil water remember to let it boil vigorously for at least 1 minute to kill any bacteria.
You must DOCUMENT THE DAMAGES IMMEDIATELY
First, go through you house and yard and photograph all the damages. Video is still the best method, but still photos work well too. Make sure you take enough photographs and video to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the property was ruined. Don’t pan over it quickly and say, “yeah, my bike looks bad too.” Take the time to show how the property was damages and let the adjuster decide if it is a repair or a replacement issue. On top of the video and/or photos, make a running list of all damaged property and put the relative value of that item. Look things up on Google. It is easy to find a value for anything now.
Don’t wait for your insurance adjuster to repair your stuff. Under all insurance policies you have a “duty to mitigate” that means you should make EMERGENCY REPAIRS on your own. You will need to take the steps necessary to prevent further damage from occurring. That means putting a tarp over an exposed hole in the roof, or sealing a broken window, or moving a broken fence into a safe location. It does NOT mean making any permanent repairs until after the homeowners insurance adjuster has an opportunity to see your damages and determine the viable repair costs. We recognize it is tempting to clean up the mess, throw out damaged property, and make things right again, it is a BAD IDEA if you have not secured your homeowner’s insurance company permission. It is only fair to let your insurance company investigate the damages and losses which you are going to ask them to cover. Please remember to be safe when making repairs. Wear protective eye gear. Wear gloves. Don’t go up on a roof barefooted. A little commonsense can save your life.
Get out that home inventory we discussed above. Use it to show your pre-hurricane property and the new photos of your Post-Hurricane property.
Get your claims ready to file ASAP! Claims are filed and paid on a first in, first out basis. You can’t wait. As the adjusters get busy they also get behind. The longer you wait the longer it will take to get paid.
Remain calm. Hurricanes test everyone. The insurance adjusters are overwhelmed. The contractors are overwhelmed. Everyone is working in sub-optimal, many times boiling hot steamy, conditions. Try and stay the course while being calm.
As property damage insurance attorneys, we at the LaBovick Law Group wish you the best of luck during Hurricane Matthew and any other storm we get this season. If you have any questions we always offer a free consultation and all our cases are completed on a contingency basis, which means, we don’t get paid unless we get money for you (and YES that includes all hurricane claims).