Hurricanes are among the most vicious and deadly storms affecting Florida on a yearly basis. They can unleash 100 mph plus winds and bring about devastating floods, destroying your home and personal property within minutes.
Florida typically faces more hurricane threats than the rest of the nation. Just recently, Hurricane Sally drenched the Florida Panhandle and caused millions of dollars in damage—and it wasn’t even a major hurricane.
Many Floridians wonder what insurance protections they have against hurricanes, and what they can do if their insurance companies try to deny coverage. The Watson Firm breaks it all down for you below.
Property Damage Caused by Hurricanes
Forceful, high-speed winds can wreak havoc on siding and roofing, often tearing pieces clean off your home. Strong winds can pick up debris that strikes your home at high speeds; your windows could be blown out or shattered. Wind damage can even uproot trees or cause them to fall onto your property resulting in major damage.
Water damage can come about from rain entering your roof or windows. Torrential downpours and rising tides can cause water levels to rise to flood levels. Basements are notoriously susceptible to flooding. Many properties have built-in drainage systems meant to combat the dangers of flooding, but these systems can fail or become overwhelmed.
Critically, properties located near large bodies of water or in flood plains are a frequent target of flash flooding. Floods can cause major structural damage to your home and destroy all your personal belongings located inside of it.
About Property Insurance
Property insurance, much like other forms of insurance, is a contract between you and an insurance company. In exchange for your payment of monthly fees (premiums) to the insurance company, it is required to compensate you for any damage or loss to your real or personal property, or both, as long as the damage or loss is covered by your policy.
Insurance coverage in Florida typically includes:
- Coverage for your physical property: This applies to damage to the physical structure of your property that is caused by hurricanes, flooding, fire, hail, snow, and other naturally occurring events.
- Coverage for your household items and belongings: This applies to personal property located inside of your home that is damaged or removed from your property due to a covered event (e.g., hurricane, flooding).
- Coverage for your ancillary expenses: You might encounter additional expenses resulting from your property damage that are covered by your property insurance policy. These may include housing and meal allowances for when your property is not safe to inhabit due to the damage it incurred. This type of coverage varies from carrier to carrier.
Property insurance typically comes in a package form (e.g., HO-1, HO-2, HO-3). This means that it typically covers damage to your property while also providing coverage for liability (legal responsibility) relating to any damage or injuries to others caused by you or your immediate family members.
Many policies cover a wide range of perils; however, not all policies are the same. Plus, nearly all property insurance policies will not cover damage or injuries caused by derelict maintenance or intentional acts. The terms and conditions upon which the insurance company is required to compensate you are contained within your insurance policy documents.
Hurricane Insurance Coverage in Florida
Notably, property insurance policies are required under Florida law to provide you with coverage for windstorms or hurricanes that are declared by the National Hurricane Center. This type of insurance covers damage to your building or to property inside of your building that is caused by the elements if the windstorm damages the building and creates an opening in which rain, sand, dust, or other elements enter your home and cause damage. Windstorms include gusts, rain, tornadoes, or cyclones that come from hurricanes and which directly cause damage or loss to your home. Hurricane coverage typically kicks in the moment that National Hurricane Center issues a hurricane warning or watch for any part of Florida, and it ends three days following the termination of that warning or watch.
Filing Your Hurricane Damage Claim
In the event that your property is damaged, you can file an insurance claim. Filing a claim basically means asking your insurance company to compensate you for your loss or to otherwise repair your property. If the insurance company determines that your loss is covered under the terms and conditions of your policy, then the company either pays for repairs to your home or provides you with money to make repairs on your own.
For example, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, which is a state-run program that provides homeowners with insurance when private market coverage is unavailable, offers an optional hurricane deductible on certain policies.
Here’s a rundown of the process for filing a hurricane damage claim, using Citizens as an example:
- Emergency measures and claim report: First, you take reasonable emergency measures to protect your property from further damage. You then contact Citizens to start the claims process. When you call, you get assigned to an adjuster who discusses your claim and plans an inspection of your property if applicable.
- Loss inspection: After filing, an inspection of the interior and exterior of your property is typically undertaken by the adjuster. Your adjuster documents your claim by speaking with you and taking video, photos, and audio of your property. The adjuster also takes information and documents from you pertaining to the claim such as photos, receipts, repair estimates, and receipts for living expenses.
- Claim review and payment: Following the inspection, the adjuster determines your applicable coverage. They then contact you to explain their rationale and to finalize the claim. To the extent that your claim is approved, you receive a payment that should enable you to repair your property to its pre-damage condition. Your claim payment should be the actual cash value of damage covered minus your policy deductible.
With Citizens and most other insurance companies, an assignment agreement could be arranged between you and a third party (e.g., contractor, water mitigation vendor, roofer, or public adjuster) which gives that third party the right to deal with your insurer on your behalf. The third-party typically receives the payment for your claim and is responsible for arranging repairs. Notably, when you enter into an assignment agreement, you are giving up your right to manage your claim. Be careful with signing away your rights especially if you don’t fully understand what they are.
Hiring an Attorney for Your Hurricane Damage Claim
Even if the damage to your home is covered by your insurance policy, don’t expect the insurance company to just cut you a blank check for your damages. Insurance companies might try to deny or devalue your claim even if it is valid.
In Florida, courts have defined bad faith as an insurance company not acting in your best interests or an insurance company failing to honor its commitments outlined in your insurance policy. Specifically, Florida allows you to sue your insurance company for bad faith when the insurance company does not attempt in good faith to settle your claims when given the circumstances, it could have settled your claim and should have done so if acting fairly and honestly towards you and with due regard for your interests.
However, in order for you to prevail in a statutory claim of bad faith in Florida, you must give the insurance company 60 days’ written notice of the violation so that the company has an opportunity to fix or cure the issue by paying damages. While some homeowners who file property insurance claims report a smooth process, many experience difficulties in getting their claims approved. Nothing stings more than faithfully paying your premiums only to discover that your policy does not cover the damage that has befallen your property.
In fact, once an insurance company denies a claim, appealing that decision and navigating that process can be anything but smooth sailing. Homeowners who retain an attorney after their claim has been denied often wish that they consulted with one earlier in the process. Here’s where an attorney can help you.
The Initial Claims Application
If you submit a claim to your insurance company, then within 14 calendar days, it must review and acknowledge your claim and provide you with any required paperwork and instructions relating to your claim. The insurance company must determine within 90 days of your claim submission whether to approve it based on the documents that you provide and based on its assessment of the damage. For this reason, you might want to consider hiring an attorney prior to filing your claim to help ensure that all the application documents are properly submitted and that experts have thoroughly assessed and documented the damage to your home.
Damage Assessment & Selection of Contractors
In the event that your claim is approved, the insurance company may seek to have the damage assessment and repairs done by contractors of their choosing. These contractors might have a working relationship with the insurance company and could be willing to accept a lower fee in order to continue to receive work from the insurance company. Unfortunately, this could cause contractors to do substandard work in order to keep costs in line for the insurance company. Contractors might also downplay the extent of damage to your home or deny damage that seems obvious. For this reason, it makes sense to involve an attorney who can protect you against receiving a contractor’s shoddy work.
Appealing a Denied Claim
Unfortunately, claim denials are commonplace. Insurance companies may seek to deny your claim for a number of reasons such as your damage or loss not being covered by your policy or your damage or loss having preexisted a covered event. However, it is your insurance company’s burden to show that your property loss has been caused by things that are not covered. Some reasons might be legitimate while others may not be.
Although you have a right to appeal any insurance claim decision, it may be difficult for you to fight with the insurance company on your own. It is important to remember that once you submit an appeal to a claim denial, you cannot supplement it with additional documents or evidence. You are typically limited to the information that you submit with your appeal. A property insurance claim attorney’s guidance through the appeal process helps ensure that all the proper evidence and information is submitted to the insurance company, in turn placing you in a better position to get your claim approved.
Finally, in the event that your appeal is denied, an experienced property insurance claims attorney could represent you in court should you decide to file suit against your insurance company. Notably, if your insurance company denies your claim and you hire a lawyer to challenge this denial, then your insurance company will have to pay your attorney’s fees if you win.
Statute of Limitations for Bringing Hurricane, Windstorm Claims in Florida
Keep in mind that in Florida, you are barred (precluded) from bringing a claim, supplemented claim or a reopened claim under a policy providing for property insurance for damage or loss caused by windstorms or hurricanes unless the claim in question was provided to the insurance company according to its policy and the policy provides coverage within three years of a windstorm or hurricane causing the damage. For this reason, you should consider your property insurance claim to be a priority.
The Watson Firm—Hurricane Damage Claim Attorneys
Getting a property insurance claim approved can be a lengthy and stressful process. For this reason, you should consult with a property insurance claims attorney who has the knowledge and expertise to help guide you through this process. The Watson Firm represents Florida policyholders in property insurance and personal injury matters. Our attorneys can help you get your claim resolved quickly and fairly.
If you are considering making a property insurance claim and would like someone fighting vigorously for your rights, feel free to call 850-607-2929 or contact us online to consult with an experienced lawyer regarding your case.