Get Hurricane Sandy Help From Insurers and FEMA
Many homeowners may just be starting the insurance claims process after Hurricane Sandy’s visit to the east coast that left over 100 dead and millions more displaced or without electricity.
After surveying the wreckage, it’s time to get down to the business of figuring out how to navigate the complicated world of insurance. Step one is to document everything you can and call your insurers to start the process moving — make sure to know your policies in advance and pursue all of them.
“While a phone call to the insurance company should be sufficient, to be certain notice was properly received, it is strongly urged to follow up in writing,” says Gregory C. Ward, an attorney with Ward Kim Vaughan & Lerner who focuses on complex insurance claims. “Just because you notify one insurer does not mean that all of your insurers received notice of your claim. It is likely that you have separate policies for wind, flood and possibly excess insurance or umbrella insurance that may also apply.”
In some cases, insurers will demand you submit a “proof of loss.” “This document is very important in the claims process and it must be sworn to under oath,” Ward explains. “Insurance companies will require significant documentation for major losses.”
The insurer will conduct its own investigation of your claim, which could involve more hoops to jump through. With luck you can get through the process on your own, but when things start going less smoothly it’s time to hire an attorney to protect your rights. “If your insurer wishes to conduct an Examination Under Oath, it likely has some problem with your claim and you should retain an attorney at this point if you have not yet done so,” Ward warns.
Companies may try to delay their decision indefinitely — look up your state law, call an attorney or ask the state insurance commissioner to find out how long they have to respond.
Victims who can’t afford to hire an attorney or who are seeking basic preliminary advice can call on Disaster Legal Services, a program administered by the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. “We’re trying to help our survivors deal with insurance companies so they are able to get compensation to recover and rebuild,” says DLS Director David H.K. Nguyen. “The biggest issues are certain damages that insurance companies claim were not damaged because of the disaster, but maybe there was some sort of damage prior to that.”
Helping Hand from Uncle Sam
For emergency funds and losses that insurance isn’t covering, Uncle Sam may be able to help. The Federal Emergency Management Agency can help with housing, cash, food, legal problems and other areas of need, depending on the circumstances. Not everyone who applies will get help– vacation homes do not qualify for FEMA grants, for example– and the agency tries to prioritize its funds to go to those who need assistance the most.
Applying for FEMA benefits is a relatively easy process: Go to disasterassistance.gov online or walk into a local disaster recovery center to acquire application forms and inquire about eligibility for various types of assistance. As of this week, the agency has doled out over $455 million among 369,000 people who applied for temporary housing assistance.
FEMA can also give out low-interest loans to people and businesses who are not eligible for grants.
In the event that FEMA aid is denied, DLS attorneys are waiting to help. “In circumstances where FEMA denies services or denies their claims, it’s usually because folks don’t provide certain documentation, or don’t quite understand all of the things that have to be submitted to get it approved,” says Nguyen. “Whether it’s missing information, wrong information or lack of documentation, attorneys will work with individuals to gather documents and submit them to FEMA so they can get what they rightfully should have.”
For storm victims seeking legal assistance or guidance, the DLS Sandy hotline number in New York is 1-800-699-5636, and in Connecticut 1-866-864-4464. To contact FEMA via telephone call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).