As residents of Fort Lauderdale, Miami, The Keys – Monroe County and other South affected areas begin cleaning up the damage left behind by Hurricane Irma, many will begin filing claims with their property insurance carriers for the damage caused to their homes, businesses and other property.  Unfortunately, the claims process is often a complex and stressful process, especially when the insurance company delays the process, challenges the value of a claim, or attempts to deny a claim altogether by stating the cause of damage is not a covered event.

The following steps can help a South Florida property owner when filing a property damage insurance claim:

Before you do anything, carefully review your property insurance policy documents.  Before you begin the clean-up process or prior to any repairs being made, you should carefully review your property insurance documents to make sure that you comply with any specific requirements your insurer may have when it comes to filing a claim.  This includes calling your insurance agent immediately, as an agent should be able to help guide you through the process, as well.  Remember, many thousands of insurance claims will be filed and you want to be as close to the front of that line as possible, so act fast!

Take photos and narrated videos depicting the damage to your property as you found it.  Doing this will allow your insurance company to see the damage caused before anything has been cleaned or moved.  It’s not always possible to wait for insurance representatives, contractors, or other home service providers to come out and give professional assessments of the damage, so it’s important to document all damage as you find it, so that an accurate record can be made.

Do not throw away or remove any damaged personal items/contents.  Once again, it will be critical to your claim that any damaged personal contents of your home are documented prior to removing or replacing them.  Unfortunately, many homeowners do not take proactive steps to record and document the interior portions of their homes until it’s too late, but if you have photos or videos taken before the damage occurred, then you are able to provide that information to your insurer, which should ultimately prove helpful.

Take all necessary steps to limit any further damage from happening.  If any damage to your property risks causing further damage (i.e., hole in roof, broken windows, etc.), do your best to have all necessary measures taken to limit or prevent additional damage from occurring.  As an insured, you have a duty to take reasonable steps to mitigate (limit) the damages that are the basis of any claim.

Save all proof of payment for any temporary repairs made.  In relation to the previous tip, if the damage to your property is so extensive that temporary repairs must be made to limit additional damage to your property, save all documentation reflecting what temporary repairs have been made and all related payments you have made, so that you can include this in your claim and ultimately be reimbursed for these expenses.  Do not make any permanent repairs until an insurance adjuster has had the opportunity to investigate and assess the damage to your property.

Inform your insurer/adjuster if your home is uninhabitable.  If your home has sustained such severe damage that it is unsafe to return, inform your insurance claims adjuster immediately.  Also, be sure to save all receipts for the expenses you incur for temporary lodging while your home is repaired.

Beware of scams!  This is an unfortunate reality, especially in areas like Fort Lauderdale and Miami.  When natural disasters occur, some will look to take advantage of those who have affected the most.  These scams include people posing as contractors seeking payment to assess your damage; people posing as utility company employees who then burglarize homes once they gain access; and fake charities that pop up after disasters who accept donations but never distribute them to those in need.  Most people who fall victim to these fraudulent schemes are often so distracted by their own issues, or are so emotionally distraught at how they have been personally affected that they let their guard down, allowing these scam artists to take even more from them.  As difficult as your own situation may be, remain vigilant and question any situation that makes you suspicious.

Hold your insurance company accountable.  It is important to remember that the representatives you deal with regarding your property insurance claim are employees of the insurance company.  While the adjuster handling your claim may be cordial and seem sympathetic, their main concern is saving the insurance company money by paying out as little as possible for each claim made.  Do not be surprised when your relationship with the insurer becomes contentious due to their efforts to limit, or even deny, your claim, because in all likelihood it’s going to happen.  When it does, contact the experienced attorneys at the Schulman Law Group (954) 349-3300 or at info@schulaw.com to make sure that you receive the full value of your claim!