7 Tips for Insurance Claims Following Hurricane Laura
Hurricane Laura has caused heartbreaking devastation throughout Louisiana, spanning from cities in the Southwest part of the State, like Lake Charles, Jennings, Cameron, Creole, and Grand Chenier, through Alexandria in Central Louisiana, and reaching as far North as Shreveport, Bossier City, Ruston, Monroe, and West Monroe. Commercial and residential property owners are now left facing the destruction left behind by the generational storm. Part of the affected property owners’ new reality is the near certain need to file an insurance claim, which can be overwhelming and confusing. Here are 7 tips for insurance claims following Hurricane Laura for business owners and homeowners if they suffered property damage:
- Follow your local leaders’ instructions in returning to your property.
Wait until you receive the “green light” from your local and State officials to return to your property. You have time to file your insurance claim. Do not be in such a rush that you endanger yourself, your family, your friends, or the first responders and line workers who are servicing the affected areas.
- Document and, if possible, preserve all evidence of any damages property.
Upon returning to your business or home, document all of the property, including those areas that appear to be undamaged. Photograph and video everything, no matter how insignificant the potentially damaged area or item may seem. Then, if at all possible, preserve your property to permit your insurance company to see all of your damages. Avoid destroying (or throwing away) any of your property or starting work on the property before the inspection of your business or home by the insurance company’s representative. This may allow you to save some of your valued property, and, most importantly, will minimize the likelihood that your insurance company later claims that you failed to protect your property and mitigate the storm damage. Remember, if you cannot prove that your property existed before the storm and that it was damaged by the storm, the insurance company will not pay for it!
- Immediately contact your insurance company upon returning to your property.
Contact your insurance company immediately upon receipt of a “green light” from the local authorities to return to your property. The earlier you contact your insurance company, the sooner they can send a representative to your property to assess your hurricane-related insurance claim and, hopefully, compensate you for your loss. The longer you wait to contact the insurance company, the further back you will be “in line” for assessment and, ultimately, loss payment (you are likely one of hundreds of thousands of claims that will be filed due to Hurricane Laura).
It is also worth mentioning that your insurance policy likely has a “prompt notice” requirement, which mandates that you give your insurance company notice of your claim as soon as possible after damage-causing storm.
- Be present during the inspection and investigation of your property.
Make sure that the insurance company’s representative inspects and investigates the entire extent of your property. Do not let them leave without walking through the interior of the property, inspecting the roof, walking around the entire exterior of the property, including the boundaries of your land, and observing every item of business or personal property which could have potentially been damaged. Remind yourself: if the representative does not see the damage, it is unlikely to make it into their assessment of your damages. Why is this important? Because the initial assessment is the document of first impression for the insurance company and will often form the basis of any initial payment made for the loss. So, if you want to maximize the initial claim loss payment, make sure the initial inspection and investigation is done properly.
Also, while most insurance adjusters are fantastic at their jobs and many are there to help you recover, there are some insurance company representatives who will fail in their duties by: (a) only taking a cursory review of your property to move on to their next file or (b) purposely failing to explore portions of your home that may be damaged. The most common situation involves an adjuster who claims that they do not need to go onto your roof to see whether it is damaged. If this unfortunate situation arises, verbalize your disagreement to the adjuster and, if the adjuster again refuses to fully inspect your property, make sure to immediately document what portions of your property were not fully evaluated by the insurance company’s representative.
- Do not evaluate your property damages in the presence of any insurance company representative.
Many property owners feel as though they need to justify or “diagnose” the cause and extent of their property damage. Unbeknownst to most property owners, they are often providing their insurance company with grounds to contest coverage or to investigate (and apply) policy exclusions. By way of example, many property owners try to assess whether their hurricane-related damages were caused by “floodwaters” as opposed to “wind,” which could result in an otherwise valid “wind claim” being denied due to a “floodwaters” policy exclusion. As a property owner, your job is to simply point out damages when requested and let the insurance company come to their own conclusions regarding the cause and extent of the loss.
- Do not respond immediately to your insurance company’s initial estimate and loss payment offer.
After their investigation, the insurance company will call you with an estimate of your damages and an offer to pay your loss. Note, if coverage exists and they do not make an offer of payment, they may have violated Louisiana law (we will publish another article on these circumstances).
Do not feel like you have to accept the insurance company’s initial estimate as to the amount of your loss. Remember, your insurance company is a business – they exist solely for profit. After a hurricane, the insurance companies are flooded with claims and their primary goal is to close as many files as possible for the smallest amount of money in the shortest amount of time. To accomplish this goal, insurance companies will often (if not always) aggressively apply exclusions, take unfounded positions to deny coverage, and lowball the true cost of the damage. This can leave you with insufficient cash to properly and fully repair and restore your property. You have the right to dispute the insurance company’s positions on coverage, exclusions, and the value of your damages. You have paid plenty in premiums; do not let them off the hook for less than the full value owed under your policy!
7. Carefully consider whether you should handle your claim by yourself.
The damages caused by Hurricane Laura are catastrophic and life-changing, and this is not the time to see whether you can handle the insurance company on your own. The insurance adjusters handle hundreds of these claims for a living, and they are good at finding ways to avoid payments. There are also simply too many traps and pitfalls in your insurance policy to navigate without any significant prior experience with insurance claims. For instance, do you know the difference between “actual cash value” versus “replacement cost”? Do you understand “recoverable depreciation” and how it affects your property damage claim? Are you prepared to argue whether certain items were “wind losses” or “water losses”?
While a quick trigger with a public adjuster or attorney may not be the route to go, you should always trust your gut! If you are uncomfortable or feel as though you are being short-changed, do not simply “roll over” for the insurance company. There are professionals at Mansfield, Melancon, Cranmer & Dick who are ready and willing to help you. Call us before it costs you more than simply their professional fees! Along those lines, most property loss professionals (like our Firm) work on a contingency basis, which means there are little to no upfront costs for you. The professionals only get paid if the insurance company makes payments due under your policy. Since it costs you nothing on the front end, why not consider the services of a public adjuster or attorney to take the headache off of your hands and ensure that you a maximizing what you are owed under your policy?
Our advice is that you choose your representation based upon your comfort with the actual person who is going to help you with your property claim as well as Mansfield, Melancon, Cranmer & Dick’s qualifications and testimonials. If you are reaching out to an attorney, make sure that the attorney is actually engaged in communication with you and you are not only directed to staff members (this is often a reliable gauge of the attorney’s intended level of involvement).
Mansfield Melancon Attorneys can Help: Call Today!
If you have any questions about your insurance claim, contact the Louisiana insurance attorneys at Mansfield, Melancon, Cranmer & Dick LLC. We have proven experience with many types of Insurance claims and have helped many Louisiana citizens receive the compensation to which they were entitled. If you found our “7 Tips for Insurance Claims Following Hurricane Laura” blog post helpful then contact us by phone by calling one of our offices: New Orleans at (504) 500-1108, Baton Rouge at (225) 612-0800, or Lafayette at (337) 409-0003. You can also request a consultation by using our “Contact Us” page.