St. Augustine, Florida and surrounding areas have been severely damaged by Hurricane Matthew. Many of us escaped with limited damage (electricity out for a few days, yard clean up, trees blown down, and a few shingles missing), however others have had their lives turned upside down by flooded homes, ruined businesses, and still without electricity. Thousands of us will be needing water remediation services, mold remediation, damage and/or structural repairs, and roof repairs/replacements. Insurance claims are being made in the thousands as a result of the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew.
Luckily, St. Augustine is a great community, and the outpouring of support by neighbors has been a blessing. Unfortunately, there are those who have either already made it to our community or are on their way, who are only out for themselves. Coquina Law Group wants to ensure that you are informed of your rights and of the hazards when dealing with claims and contractors.
1. It is unethical and against the Professional Rules of Conduct for attorneys and law firms to be soliciting business directly, or to have runners soliciting on their behalf. It has come to our attention that home owners in Davis Shores area have been contacted by individuals who say they will sue the insurance company for free and handle the claim for them. This should be immediately reported to the Florida Bar, floridabar.org, and to local authorities. If a firm is this unethical, they do not have your interest in mind, but are trying to make money from your loss. Second, no one should have a dispute this early on with their insurance company. It will take time for the insurance companies to have the homes inspected and coverage decisions made pursuant to your insurance policy. As discussed below, many factors come to play as to what coverage is available and what payments will be made.
2. Public Adjusters. Public adjusters get a percentage of your claim. This is true regardless of the result they obtain, if any on your behalf. We have found that many public adjusters will sign up a client, and send an inflated estimate with no supporting documentation to the insurance company. They will then refer you to their friend attorney to file a law suit based on an inflated estimate, or an estimate that includes non-related repairs. Public adjusters have their place, but again, why would you sign a portion of your benefits to someone when there is no dispute over coverage or payment. Your claim has not been adjusted, do not needlessly hire a public adjuster!
3. Insurance Claims. Two things will be at issue during the claim process: Property Insurance and Flood Insurance. Depending on your cause of damage, one or both policies could come into play. Hurricane damage typically has separate deductibles. If you do not have a copy of your policy, call your agent and get one.
4. Insurance companies will make payment pursuant to the policy, causation of loss, and estimate for repairs. Most use the same estimate software as contractors, and this is industry standard for contractors and insurance companies.
A. Payment will be based upon the estimate minus:
i. your deductible
ii.. depreciated value.
B. The depreciated value is recoverable once you have a contract for repairs and the repairs are made.
C. The insurance company will also reconsider its payment if your contractor says that the repairs cannot be made for the amount of the insurance company’s estimate. At this point, you will need to provide your insurer with the documentation showing why the repairs will cost more. Reputable contractors will help you with this.
5. You control your repairs. The insurance company will have preferred vendors, but you can also choose a local company that has a good reputation that you trust.
6. Document. Take photographs before, during, and after any remediation efforts. Once your insurance company has had an opportunity to inspect the property, you can then begin repairs. Again, document this process with photographs.
7. Assignment of Benefits (“AOB”). Assignment of Benefits is usually done with water remediation and mitigation efforts and is a legitimate way to handle mitigation repairs. Before signing an AOB, research the company. Are they a reputable company or local company? How many lawsuits are they involved in? You can search the St. Johns Clerk of Court website and other local jurisdictions regarding this. A few disputes is okay, but if they are in 10, 20, 30, 50 law suits against insurance companies across the state, its is likely that contractor and not the insurance company. An AOB is signing your rights to the claim away. This can be for limited purposes, such as water remediation or for the entire rebuild claim. Again, proceed with caution and ask questions. A reputable company can explain the process. Will they work with the insurance company if there is a difference in opinion regarding scope, will you get a say, or do they send all disputes directly to their attorney? Will they do all the work, or if a portion is disputed, will they just file a lawsuit and leave you held up in a contract and lawsuit for years. AOB allows the contractor to sue your insurance company on your claim that you have assigned. Will they let you out of the contract if there is a dispute regarding coverage?
8. Do your research. Talk to the contractor, and if you need to, call an attorney to discuss the contract. Many attorneys and law firms in our area will review at no charge to help you make an informed decision.
9. Talk to your insurance company, keep copies of letters, texts, and emails. Insurance companies are not against you. If a legit dispute arises and a lawsuit is filed, they have to pay your attorney’s fees. Therefore, it is not in their interest to deny any rightful claims. Mistakes can happen, and if they do, there are local attorneys to help you. However, any firm, public adjuster, or company that tells you that you need to retain them to fight the insurance company before your claim has been adjusted is not looking out for you, but instead looking to make a quick buck.
10. Research anyone that you hire. Word of mouth, Facebook, google, or BBB, and check for licenses and insurance on anyone you hire to make repairs. Hire local companies that will be here in a month, or next year, that you can call if there is something wrong in the future. Many local companies have brought in extra equipment to handle the increase in demand. We are St. Augustine Strong because we are a community that sticks together!
We wish everyone the best in their recovery from Hurricane Matthew. Coquina Law Group will be participating in several local fundraisers for families in need in our local community. There are several Facebook groups coordinating efforts to help our community. St. Augustine is a great community and we will recover!