So . . . . . You regularly paid your premiums because you wanted to protect your most valuable asset, your home. Unfortunately, no matter how good a policy holder you were, your insurance company is either refusing to pay, not paying the full amount, or not calling you back. That is why you need competent legal counsel.
When an insurance company refuses to pay what is owed, you are entitled to the full amount due plus attorney fees and potentially punitive damages.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
Q: How can I both afford an attorney and get my home repaired or replaced?
A: You are entitled to attorneys fees when your insurance company fails to timely pay your claim. This includes not only making a timely payment, but an adequate timely payment. Oftentimes, your insurance company will provide partial payment but because it is inadequate, you have a right to file suit and collect the full amount and attorneys fees
We receive our payment through the payment of attorneys fees by the insurance company. Our experience from Rita is that we have added on an additional 35% to the value of the claim to pay for attorney fees. Example: If your damages are $10,000, then we would seek to get you $10,000.00 after attorneys fees are paid.
Q: What is your firm’s experience with claims from Hurricane Rita?
A: We have successfully handled over 100 claims for damage caused by Hurricane Rita, and we have the staff and resources to work on your claim now.
Q: What do I need to do right away before I make any repairs?
A: The first thing you should do is document and photograph every item of damage you have, no matter how small.
Do not make any improvements until you have at least taken a photograph of the damage. It is preferred that you not alter the damage until an insurance adjuster has inspected it.
Q. Are there critical time periods that I must be aware of?
A: Yes. The typical National Flood Insurance Policy requires that you submit a proof of claim within 60 days. The insurance company who is handling the claim may refuse to pay any amounts not included in the proof of claim. In addition, there are time limits stated in the policy that govern how long you have to file suit, usually 2 years.
Q: What do I need to do to bind my insurance company to a timetable?
A: By following the claim procedures outlined by the Insurance Code, the insurance company must take action or face penalties. For example, and insurance company must acknowledge that they have received your claim within 15 days.
Q: How can I expedite my claim?
A: Like much of life, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If the insurance company knows that you know your rights, and that you are willing to make them comply with the legal requirements, your claim may get priority over the claim where a form is submitted and no other action is taken.
Q: My insurance company will not call me back. What can I do?
A: The insurance company is required by law to handle claims in a timely manner and to use good faith in dealing with its insureds. If you make written documentation of your attempts to contact the company, and let the company know that you know what is required, you are more likely to get attention.
Q: My insurance company keeps changing adjusters. What can I do to keep my claim on track?
A: Again, the insurance company has duty to handle claims in good faith. The use of “independent contractors” as adjusters, some of whom only have “emergency licenses, is widespread, but that does not change the requirement that the insurance company respond to your claim in timely manner. Documenting the information provided to one adjuster, and documenting that the next adjuster claims he or she does not have information goes a long way toward proving that the company is not handling the claim in good faith.
Q: My house has been completely destroyed by flood damage. How much can I expect to receive?
A: If your house is a total loss from flooding, then the first thing you want to do is determine the maximum amount of coverage on your policy. If the repair or rebuilding of your house will exceed the maximum amount of coverage, then you may be limited to the amount of the policy, but you may have a claim against your agent for under-insuring you.
Most insurance agents carry “Errors and Omissions” coverage, which is insurance coverage which covers the insurance agent from making certain kinds of mistakes in providing insurance to its customers
Q: I have heard a lot about certain types of events not being covered by flood insurance. What if my water damage was not caused by rising water from the storm surge, but from “wind driven rain”?
A: Typically, wind driven rain is covered by “windstorm insurance”, the kind of insurance that covers hurricanes. You may be caught between two different insurance companies with separate coverage for windstorm and flood. You may need to file claims with both insurance companies if there is a dispute about whether the damages is “flood” damage or “wind driven rain.”
Q: The insurance adjuster has prepared a written estimate based on a computer program on his laptop computer. Can I be paid more than this estimate?
A: Yes. The insurance company is not in the business of repairing homes. They may claim to have expertise in the cost of repair, but ultimately a contractor will have to make the repairs and will expect full payment. If you have been presented with a written estimate by your adjuster, use that as a tool with any proposed contractor to make sure that the estimate properly documents the amount and cost of work that must be done. Often, the estimate understates the need for or cost of repairs, and you will need a competent contractor to advise you how much repairs will actually cost.
CONTRACTORS AND ENGINEERS
Q: Following Hurricane Rita, it was very difficult to find a contractor who was even willing to give me an estimate. How do I find a contractor to give me an estimate for repairs?
A: You should avoid out of state contractors who have no permanent presence in Southeast Texas. Use someone you know, or who has been recommended by someone you trust. It may be difficult to find someone in that category on short notice, but in the long run, you will be better off waiting to deal with someone you know to be reputable. And, if possible, make sure they are bonded.
Q: What is the difference between a Contractor and an Engineer?
A: Generally speaking, a contractor is someone who is in the business of building or repairing structures. Most contractors are not licensed as engineers, nor do most contractors have the skill and training of engineers. Structural or Civil Engineers are licensed by the state of Texas and have training and experience that enable them to make determinations as to the cause of damage and what structural repairs may be necessary.
Q. I have a contractor who tells me that I have full coverage and that he can repair my house. Should I sign a contract?
A: Do not rely on your contractor to tell you how much coverage you have. Unscrupulous contracts may tell you that you have more coverage to get you to sign an unfavorable contract. Once you sign a contract, you, not the insurance company, are liable for payment of the contract amount if the work is done. If the contractor is not paid by the insurance company, a contract can assert a lien on your property for the amount of the charge.
Q: My insurance company has recommended a contractor to perform my repairs. Am I required to use that contractor?
A: No, you are not required to use a contractor recommended by the insurance company. You should treat a recommended contractor just like any other contractor when deciding who you chose to repair or rebuild your home. Are they local? Have they been in business for many years? What is their reputation in the community? Are they bonded? Remember, if there is a dispute between you and insurance company as to how to make a repair or what materials are necessary, you do not want a contractor taking sides with the insurance company just to stay in their good graces.
Q: What if I hire a contractor to give me an estimate, and I disagree with his estimate?
A: You are not bound by an estimate, but you should be very careful in disclosing this estimate to your insurance company. You should get a second opinion from another contractor. Be careful when you sign any agreement, as some contractors will require that if they prepare an estimate, you agree that they will do the repairs.
Business Interruption Losses
Q: What if I have a business that has to be abandoned because of the mandatory evacuation order. Can I recover money due to the lost of income due to the hurricane?
A: You can only recover for lost business if you have business interruption insurance. If you do have this insurance, then your are entitled to lost income not only from the time of the mandatory evacuation but also for the period of decreased revenue due to the impact on the surrounding community, i.e., electricity, mail and banking.
Q: What if I did not sustain physical damage to my business. Can I still make a business interruption claim?
A: Yes, physical damage is not required to make a business interruption claim, although your insurance company may use that as a strategy to pay little or nothing on your business interruption claim.
Q: What if my insurance company only pays be part of my business interruption claim and I feel that I am entitled to get more. Can I still file a claim?
A: Yes, provided you do not sign a release. If you make a claim, and the insurance company evaluates your claim at less than full value, you can accept the partial payment and still retain your right to sue the insurance company for the full value provided you do not sign a release. Once you sign a release, you may be forever precluded from bringing additional claims.
ALTERNATE LIVING EXPENSES
Q: I cannot live in my house because of damage from flood or wind. How much am must the insurance company pay me for alternate living expenses?
A: Provided you have this type of coverage, the insurance company must pay you the actual cost of alternate living expenses (again, up to the limits of the policy). If you are paying friends or relatives to stay with them, get a written agreement signed by both parties that states the amount that is being charged. Keep receipts for all expenses that may be related to your loss or your inability to live in your home.
Q: My house is damaged and uninhabitable. I am staying with my family, who is not charging me. Can I still claim “alternate living expenses?”
A: Yes, provided that you document the fair market value of housing that is provided to you.
DEALING WITH YOUR MORTGAGE COMPANY
Q: The insurance company has issued a check for my property damage, but I can’t cash it because my mortgage company is listed as a payee. What can I do.
A: Most mortgages have provisions that make the lender an insured on your policy, and require that they be notified of a loss and that payment of the loss include their name. The lending institution must provide the funds to your builder for repairs, and usually do so in installments as the work progresses.