At this stage, "At What Point Do I Need a Hurricane Insurance Claim Lawyer?" is a question that I am receiving a lot.
I’m also seeing a big uptick in posts asking for lawyer referrals and (if I’m being completely honest) hurricane attorney advertisements.
When Do You Need to Hire a Lawyer for Your Hurricane Ida Insurance Claim?
In the simplest terms, you need to hire an attorney when you hit a standstill with your insurance company.
If you are at a complete impasse where they absolutely are no longer willing to work with you to recover what is needed to make you whole.
- If the insurance company denies your claim for your damaged property outright.
- If your insurance company is asking you to sign a release or the check says “full-payment” early after the storm, then you should have your settlement offer reviewed by an attorney. Many times the extent of the damage does not show itself immediately.
- If your insurance company is asking you to sign a release or accept “full payment” and you still have unresolved disputes that the insurance company is no longer willing to negotiate.
- If the insurance company fails to cover the entire loss due to underrepresenting the amount of damage and/or cost to repair and negotiations are at standstill.
- If the insurance company fails to cover the entire loss due to claims of wear and tear or improper maintenance and negotiations are at a standstill.
- If you have both wind damage and flood damage (or if the insurance company claims that do). It can be very difficult to prove what water damage came from rising water versus which came through the ceiling or window due to wind and rain. Your homeowner's insurance and flood insurance will likely dispute the type of damage.
- If the insurance company is acting in bad faith. The insurance company has 60 days after you file your claim to initiate adjustment. They have 30 days after the homeowner submits valid proof of loss (in some cases, the insurance adjuster inspecting your home is considered proof of loss) to tender initial payment. If your insurance company does not meet these deadlines, they must pay not only your claim but can also owe penalties and attorney fees.
- Another example of bad faith is if the adjuster misrepresents what’s covered by your policy. Example: The adjuster claims that you are only entitled to Actual Cash Value when your policy should reimburse for Replacement Cost. Or the adjuster claims your detached building is not covered by the policy when it in fact is. All of these examples will be highly policy and fact-specific. It is important for you to document everything the adjuster says and have them put everything in writing. If it is proven that your insurer acted in bad faith, they must pay not only your claim but can also owe penalties and attorney fees.
- If you are nearing the prescription deadline for your claim. Prescription is also known as the "statute of limitations." It is the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. In Louisiana, the prescription deadline is 2 years. However, you should not wait to contact an attorney until a week or two before the deadline. If it has been a year or more since your loss, and you are not making progress with your claim, it is probably time to consult an attorney.
When Do You Likely Not Need an Attorney Yet?
As frustrating as it is when they are sending a new round of adjusters and structural engineers (and I know first hand), then the claim is progressing, and you likely do not need a lawyer yet.
If they have offered an initial “good faith tender”, and it is (much) lower than your contractor estimate, you likely do not need a lawyer yet. This initial estimate from the insurance company is the amount that they are not disputing. It is the minimum that you will receive.
At this point, there is still much up for negotiation and supplemental payments.
You need to review the initial estimate line by line and identify all items that were possibly mis-measured, fully missed, or not adequately compensated.
Some examples are:
- Replacing flooring but not accounting for trim
- Mismeasuring the amount of sheetrock on a wall or the ceiling height
- Replacing a section of flooring without accounting for undamaged flooring that now also needs to be replaced if the flooring is continuous.
- Accounting for any upgrades in the home - Giving you $800 for a leaded-glass front door that cost $5000 or $70 for a chandelier that cost $250
- Giving the cost of a door replacement as just the door slab, but no money for the door frame, installation, painting, caulking, etc.
- Something is labeled as the age of the home, but you had just recently purchased it.
These are just a few examples.
At this point, you need to work with your contractor to create a line item estimate and submit it to the insurance company. This should account for any items missed by the insurance estimate and any that are valued too low. If you have original receipts for any of the items, those should be submitted as well as pictures of the item.
Once work is done, then you need to submit the actual invoice so that any depreciation can be recovered (if you have Replacement Cost Value insurance coverage.)
If the adjusters and engineers have completed their work and offered reports denying or underpaying your claim and negotiations are at a standstill, then it is likely time to get the opinion of a hurricane claim attorney.
What About Hiring a Public Adjuster?
A public adjuster is better suited to work with homeowners earlier in the process than attorneys. It can be reassuring to have someone working with you at that early point as the claim process can be confusing and frustrating.
Public adjusters are usually able to quantify your claim and submit an estimate to your insurance company.
If the insurance company continues to deny a claim for supplemental payment and you come to a standstill with your insurance company, a public adjuster cannot file suit. In that unfortunate case, you will find yourself paying for the adjuster and an attorney.
If the insurance company has acted in bad faith, an attorney can also fight for bad faith penalties that you may be entitled to including attorney's fees. The public adjuster has no power to enforce bad faith against insurance companies for the denial, delayal, or underpayment of your hurricane Ida insurance claim. Bad faith penalties are a powerful negotiating tool available to attorneys.
The Insurance Commissioner of Louisiana has already stated that property owners should be prepared to file suit for their hurricane insurance claims. Unfortunately, many will have to do so.
The more money you can get from the insurance company before formally hiring a lawyer, the better off you will be. You also want to make sure that the attorney is not taking a percentage of your entire claim, but only charging based on the amount that the payment increased after hiring the lawyer.
I’ve worked claims for hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Issac, Laura, Delta, and Zeta. And now I’ve filed hurricane damage claims for my home and my business right alongside you for Ida. It is not an easy process. If you have questions, give my office a call at 985-240-9773.
I will always give my honest opinion of your situation. If you don’t need to hire a hurricane damage lawyer yet, I will let you know.