Recently, Hurricane Michael came through the Gulf Coast and devastated large parts of the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, and Georgia. Many homeowners, farmers, and business owners have sustained severe damage to their properties, and the total cost to rebuild could run into the billions. Business and property owners have a right to expect that their insurer will pay their claim fairly and promptly after a hurricane. Unfortunately, this is very often not the case.
Whenever a hurricane does widespread damage to a concentrated region, insurance carriers are suddenly processing tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of claims. These carriers are under enormous financial pressure to mitigate the losses from the storm as much as possible. This oftentimes leads to claims adjusters playing hardball with their insureds and looking for any reason they can to pay out far less than they should or deny the claim altogether.
Insurers have a history of this kind of behavior after a major storm hits. For example, in September of 2017, Hurricane Irma caused widespread damage in several Florida counties. Last May, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported a sharp increase in lawsuits against insurers because of Hurricane Irma. As of April 2018, more than 10% of the nearly 1 million Hurricane Irma claims had either been denied or remained unpaid.
There are several reasons why your insurance claim may be denied after a hurricane, here are three of the most common:
You Have Preexisting Damage
Insurance adjusters will often claim that the damage to your property or business already existed before the hurricane hit, or that you failed to properly maintain your property, which resulted in more severe damage than you would have otherwise sustained. Over time, every property has normal wear and tear, but some adjusters will try to use this as an excuse to deny your claim by saying that the property was already damaged before the storm.
You Did Not Secure your Property
This tactic is similar to the first one. The insurance adjuster may acknowledge that the damage to your property resulted from the hurricane, but they might also say that it became worse because you didn’t take steps to secure your property either before or after the storm hit. However, the reality with storms like Hurricane Michael is that residents are often forced to evacuate, with little or no time to properly secure belongings.
The Damage is Excluded Under your Policy
Hurricane damage is caused by a combination of high winds and heavy, sustained downpours. The problem for property owners is that flood insurance must be obtained separately (well before a storm hits) through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Those who reside in flood zones may be required to have flood insurance, but hurricanes often hit areas where flood insurance is not a requirement and many property owners don’t have it.
After a storm, an insurance adjuster may deny your claim saying that the damage to your property was caused by flooding rather than wind. Very often, this determination is highly suspect or flat-out wrong. For example, the adjuster may say that the water damage in your building happened because of flooding, when the actual cause was the roof being torn off or windows being broken because of the heavy winds.
While an insurance adjuster may sometimes find a legitimate reason to deny your claim or pay out less than they should, other times it is done in bad faith to frustrate the property owner and get them to accept far less than they should. In some cases, insurers have been found to go even further and cross the line into outright fraud by misrepresenting what is and is not insured under a policy.
Here are some of the things to watch out for when dealing with an insurance adjuster after a hurricane:
- Unreasonable delays in the processing of the claim;
- Falsely denying that your policy covers damage from the storm;
- Making other false and/or misleading statements about what your policy covers;
- Making a lowball settlement offer;
- Pressuring you to sign a written release of supplemental claims in order to receive your settlement.
Speak with a Seasoned Insurance Claims Lawyer
Insurance adjusters are under immense pressure to minimize their payouts after a major storm, but that is no excuse to mistreat policyholders. If you are a property owner or business owner in the Florida Panhandle, southeast Alabama, or southwest Georgia and you are having trouble dealing with your insurer, you need a strong legal advocate by your side fighting aggressively for your rights and interests.
At M. Adam Jones and Associates, we understand the devastation homeowners, farmers, and business owners in this region have faced because of Hurricane Michael. We stand up to insurers who do not act in good faith, putting our extensive experience to work to ensure that you are fully compensated for your losses from the storm.
For a free consultation with one of our skilled attorneys, call our office today at 334-699-5599 or send us a secure and confidential message through our web contact form.