Getting Help for Hurricane Sandy Destruction
Hurricane Sandy is putting a beatdown on the North Atlantic states today, with flooding and wind damage already occurring in some areas and the storm expected to intensify into the evening. Some 60 million people live in the hurricane’s path, while New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and other cities have all but shut down for the duration of the storm.
Homeowners and renters hopefully have already hunkered down with enough food, water and emergency supplies to ride out the storm and any subsequent loss of utilities, or have evacuated to somewhere safe.
Depending on the outcome of the hurricane, it may be necessary to seek out emergency assistance or make an insurance claim on property damage in its aftermath. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has resources that can help consumers navigate the unpredictability and danger of a major weather event. Immediately relevant to people who have been forced to leave their homes is the ability to find an open shelter by texting “SHELTER” and a Zip Code to 43362.
Displaced residents can also apply for financial or direct disaster assistance through FEMA, either at the website DisasterAssistance.gov or over the phone at (800) 621-3362. Financial assistance is usually in the form of small loans intended to help with losses that are not covered by insurance. The federal program can also help people find and pay for temporary places to live if their own home is rendered uninhabitable.
Wind and Flood Insurance
Will your insurance cover damage to home and property? It depends on the policy. Make sure you know exactly what is in your paperwork before starting the claims process. Most policies do cover wind damage to a house and its contents; however flood damage usually is a supplemental option and not all homeowners will be covered. Of course, many houses built in flood plains are required by their mortgage lenders to have flood insurance.
New Orleans trial attorney Fred L. Herman, of the Fred Herman Law Firm, explained to Lawyers.com that the first step in making an insurance claim is preparation: “The first thing people should do is document what is in their homes,” Herman said, advising homeowners to take photos of all their valuables so it’s easier to prove loss when a destructive event does occur.
Once the storm passes, it’s time to survey any damage and get organized to make an insurance claim and prepare for any legal processes that may need to follow. Make sure to document every step of the process, from the damage to your home to the exact time and date you call your insurer to start the claims process. Many companies have limits as to how long they are permitted to wait before responding to your claim, and some states have laws mandating a timely response.
Protect Your Rights
If your insurer is unresponsive, or doesn’t agree to pay for damage that should be covered in the policy, it’s time to call an attorney to protect your assets. Sometimes a sternly-worded letter alerting the insurer to its mistake will be enough to rectify the situation; in other cases you might have to take the company to court to be compensated. Every state has an insurance commissioner, as well, who may be able to help in the case of a disputed claim.
Remember, insurance companies are there to help you, and you’ve put hundreds or thousands of dollars into them so they will be there when you need them. Do not let yourself get cheated out of compensation you’re entitled to based on a mistake or bad faith action by your insurer.
“If one would take a look at the history of Katrina and events like Katrina, there are many hundreds if not thousands of claims that have to be litigated for one reason or another,” Herman said. “Sometimes it’s a legitimate dispute. Sometimes it’s an issue to what coverage is applied. Sometimes it’s an issue of the value of property destroyed and how to measure that value.”
“Experience teaches us many hundreds if not thousands [of claims] require some intervention of the legal system,” the attorney said. “And that’s unfortunate, particularly after a disaster.”