With Hurricane Gustav just a few miles off the Louisiana coast and two million Southeast Louisiana residents spread across the country, there are many questions. There are also, however, some other things that are inevitable.
Hurricane Gustav will certainly cause damages throughout the Southeastern Louisiana region, and as a result, property and business owners will once again find themselves preparing and adjusting insurance claims.
The lessons of Hurricane Katrina, however, should help residents and businesses better prepare for the claims adjusting process. After Hurricane Katrina, Wolfe Law Group represented plaintiffs against insurance companies and successfully brokered the settlement of millions of dollars of insurance payouts.
Our construction clients will likely have two types of insurance claims: claims for its business losses and for their personal losses. This post provides some Katrina-influenced and tested tips on how to successfully prepare your insurance claim(s).
- Make Your Claims Immediately. Not only do you have a legal obligation to make your insurance claims as soon as possible, but its also the correct thing to do. Notify your insurance company so you can get in line for a property adjustment, and so you can be assigned a claim number to track the details of your claim(s).
- Journal Your Life and Document Everything.The insurance companies are very, very organized, and they are very detailed. Every telephone conversation, email, letter and other communication will get documented on their end…but in their own words. Be certain to fight fire with fire, and keep yourself organized as well. Keep a journal of your communications with your insurance company, send letters via certified mail and keep record of your correspondence, confirm all conversations with letters to ensure that the spirit of your discussion with an insurance representative is captured.Remember the frustration of hearing something from an insurance company and having them deny it later? Documenting your conversations is a way to hold an insurance company’s feet to the fire.
- Capture your damages. Take photographs of everything, make a video, and do absolutely everything you can to document your damages. Remember, YOU have the duty to prove your claim and your damages. While the insurance company does oftentimes “adjust” the damages by sending an adjuster, this does not make it their job to help you document or prove your claim.
- Loss of Use?One of the most difficult items of damages to prove post-Katrina was “loss of use” damages. Insurance companies define these damages as those costs you incur which are “above and beyond” what you would have incurred had the storm not displaced you and your family. These types of damages are difficult to prove because they are somewhat based on speculation.Be prepared to prove what you used to spend on things, and what you spent on them when evacuated. This means you must keep detailed track of everything you spend while out of town and out of your property. Keep track of money spent on gas v. food, on eating out v. eating in, on living with relatives v. living at a hotel.
- Business Income Interruption.Policies usually provide coverage to businesses in two respects: (1) for actual income not received because of the loss; and / or (2) for expenses incurred because of the loss.Be prepared to show how much money you were making and spending before the loss, and how much you made / spent after the loss. Also, be prepared to engage a CPA or other accountant to put together detailed financial reports for the insurance companies. Again, you have the duty to prove your insurance claim – and therefore, the more detailed your records and/or “proof,” the more likely you are to settle your claim without litigation or a costly adjusting process.
- Prepare your Argument. It’s already been mentioned in this post…but it can’t hurt to mention it again: YOU have the duty to prove your loss, not the insurance company. Do not wait for the insurance company to “adjust” your losses, nor rely on them. While an adjuster will likely come to your property to view the losses, they are doing it with the insurance company’s interest in mind, and not yours. Engage someone to represent you in the adjusting process, or be prepared to provide your own information and documentation related to the loss.
How Do You Document Your Losses?
Post-Katrina, it was almost impossible to get a contractor out to properties to adjust losses…and the market was flooded with “public adjusters” not properly licensed or qualified to work in the area.
So in Gustav’s wake, and expecting more of the same, how can property and business owner adjust their losses?
While this question is not an easy one to answer, Hurricane Katrina did give the Southeast Louisiana area some experience in the insurance claims process. Furthermore, the region seems better prepared to handle a post-disaster situation.
Since Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana’s Department of Insurance began to recognize “public adjusters” and provide a licensing process for them. Furthermore, there are construction companies and similar services available, ready and experienced in producing construction estimates for property owners to specifically provide to insurance companies. One such company in New Orleans is EstimateBuilders.Com, which produces estimates for property owners using programs familiar to the insurance industry.
Further, it’s never to early to engage a qualified attorney to help you through the claims process. An insurance contract is not a simple document, as most policies are 50+ pages of dense legal language and requirements. Property and business owners may compromise their rights in a claim by performing on the contract improperly, or not performing when required.
An attorney can guide you through the claims process to ensure that your legal rights are protected, that you get the most out of your insurance claim and that in the event of an improper denial of coverage, you are properly protected and the claim is properly pursued.
Wolfe Law Group has post-Katrina experience in representing plaintiffs in insurance dispute litigation, and has organized millions in insurance settlements since 2005. Further, after the floods in Washington State in December 2007, the firm also represented victims of that disaster against their respective insurance companies.
Post-Gustav, Wolfe Law Group is equipped and experienced to guide you or your company through the claims process, and if necessary, into insurance litigation. Contact us today to learn more – we’re available before, during and after Gustav, as our office will work remotely t
hrough our Seattle office (206-801-1600).