Filing a Hurricane Sandy Homeowners Insurance Claim

Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall in Atlantic City, New Jersey on October 29, is the most damaging hurricane ever to impact the United States, with the exception of Katrina. To make matters worse, a strong nor’easter hit the same areas on November 7. Losses to homeowners and business owners have reached into the tens of billions of dollars. If you or someone you know has experienced property and/or business damages due to the storm, getting solid advice on how to handle your insurance claim is really important to getting back on your feet as quickly as possible. Here at FreeAdvice, we’ve been providing legal information and advice from top notch insurance attorneys for years, going back to Katrina. We’ve gathered this information and updated it for you here. In the information below, you will find answers to questions about:

  • What to Do Before Filing Your Claim
  • Tips for Filing Your Insurance Claim
  • Should You Contact an Attorney? When Should You Contact an Attorney?
  • How Does the Attorney Get Paid?
  • What If You’ve Lost Your Policy in the Flood?
  • Filing Claims for Business Losses

The information in this blog is courtesy of attorneys Robert Scott and Gerry Goldsholle of Advocate Law Group, representing homeowners and businesses in insurance and natural disaster claims nationwide for over 30 years. If you would like a free case evaluation regarding your insurance claim, fill out our case evaluation form here.

What to Do Before Filing Your Claim 
The first thing you will need to take care of, after you have secured the safety of yourself and those around you, is to take stock of the damage to your home and belongings and to document with photographs and/or video, in detail, the damage and loss. Take steps to prevent further damage by covering windows, holes in the roof, removing water, etc. Do not make permanent repairs until an adjuster has had a chance to see your property. Then contact your insurance company so an adjuster can come out and take a look at the damage. You will also need to consult your policy to determine what your insurance company requires of you in terms of filing your claim. Most policies have a time limit within which you must file a claim. See below for what to do if you’ve lost your policy. If you don’t have the contact information for your insurance company, your state’s department of insurance can help you. See the links below.

Do not hire contractors knocking door to door. Fly by night scammers are common after major disasters and your insurance company may not pay for the repair or downed tree if you were scammed by someone who overcharged you for the service. Shop for contractors and get multiple bids. Then consult with your insurance company before hiring one. Have your policy number handy whenever you contact your insurance company. Keep receipts and records for everything related to your claim.

Tips for Filing Your Insurance Claim
First, make sure you document your losses. (See above.) Your policy will tell you what you are covered for and the deductible that is required. If you live in New York and Pennsylvania and you have a policy that requires a deductible for hurricane damage, you may be in luck. Governors Cuomo and Corbett have announced that hurricane deductibles will not be applied to damages resulting from Hurricane Sandy. For specific advice on how to file a claim in your state, consult the resource links for your state, below.

Damages from Sandy have primarily been the result of wind and flood. Wind damage is covered by most insurance policies. Most damage, however, has occurred from flood, and most homeowners are not insured for flood because most insurers do not cover flood. Flood insurance is offered by FEMA (and some private insurers) through the National Flood Insurance Program and only covers losses due to flood (not wind). Check your policy carefully for coverage, and if you are in doubt, consult with your insurance company. If you doubt the information from your insurer, consult an attorney. The hardships that result from a natural disaster and the general lack of knowledge on the part of policy holders make insurer abuse and fraud more likely.

If you are covered by wind and flood separately, make sure (or have your attorney make sure) the two different adjusters are working together to determine which element caused what damage. Flood and wind adjusters do not have a good track record (from Katrina) of knowing how to work together to get the claim fully paid.

If You Think Your Insurer Is Being Dishonest
The state agency charged with regulating insurance in your state typically provides a way to file a complaint about an insurance company. Links for your state’s insurance agency are provided below.

Should You Contact an Attorney? When Should You Contact an Attorney?
If you reach a point where you realize that you need to fix your house and you don’t have the money to do that and your insurer is saying it will not give you the proper amount to do that, then that’s the point to consider reaching out to an attorney. Some states have set up mediation services to help insurers and insureds resolve conflicts over claims. See the question and answer directly above. Going through mediation may be enough, but if it’s not, there’s no harm in talking with a lawyer to find out where you’re at legally. There’s a wellspring of knowledge out there from Katrina and no homeowner should despair if they’ve suffered damage from Sandy. There’s no need to contact an attorney before you’ve gone through the process of documenting your losses and contacting your insurance company. If you’ve done all of that and the insurance company denies your claim in part or in full, that’s when a lawyer should get involved.

How Does an Attorney Get Paid?
Attorneys in these types of cases get paid on a contingency basis. The attorney and/or law firm will fund the expenses for the case until it is either settled or the insured wins the lawsuit. In either case, the attorney then gets a percentage of the recovery. The insured does not pay for anything out of pocket. If the insured does not win, the attorney receives nothing. However, attorneys will typically only take cases they think are likely to succeed. Most of these cases will be undervaluations, where the contractor repairing or rebuilding the home estimates a significantly higher cost than the insurance company. For example, the contractor repairing your home is estimating the cost to be $100,000 but the insurance company is estimating $22,000. Obviously, there’s a big difference there and more likely than not, the insurance company is wrong.

All of the states that have been affected by Sandy have laws that award attorney fees and costs to the prevailing party, so in that situation, you would not even have to pay your attorney a percentage of your recovery.

What if You’ve Lost Your Policy in the Hurricane and Flood?
If you’ve lost your policy, contact your insurer and request a duplicate copy. If you have an attorney, he or she will request a certified copy for you.

 

State Sources:

Connecticut
Connecticut State Bar Disaster Insurance Hotline 

Delaware
Delaware Department of Insurance – File a Complaint
Delaware Department of Insurance – Storm Prep and Questions 

District of Columbia
District of Columbia State Insurance Department (202) 727-8000

Maryland
Maryland Insurance Administration 

Massachusetts
Massachusetts Division of Insurance 

New Jersey
New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance 
New Jersey Mobile Insurance Claims Units 
New Jersey Governor’s Guidance for Filing Insurance Claims 

New York
New York Department of Financial Services 

North Carolina
North Carolina Department of Insurance Hurricane Claims Center 

Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Insurance Department – After the Storm: Tips for Filing Insurance Claims 

Rhode Island
Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency – Filing Reports Using United Way’s 2-1-1 

Virginia
Virginia State Corporation Commission – Bureau of Insurance: Tips for Dealing with Disasters 

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