Dealing with Flood Insurance Claims After Eta
As flooding from Tropical Storm Eta unfolds, thousands of businesses and homeowners who never considered the possibility, will be dealing with water and flood damage. Our Tampa headquarters office phones are already buzzing. In order to offer assistance to our readers, I asked my talented staff of public adjusters to share some of the best tips they could think of for handling a flood claim. The following are some claim tips that hopefully will help folks should they have flood coverage or windstorm damage.
Flood vs. Water Damage
First, it’s important to understand the difference between these 2 terms in regard to what will be covered and how to use those terms when reporting a claim.
Water losses: In the insurance world water losses and the claims that follow are the most frequent claims that are reported to insurance companies. Generally speaking, most property insurance policies cover these type of losses but the water damage has to occur from an event inside a building or home. If Tropical Storm ETA creates wind driven rain that breaches windows or blows some of your roof off and water enters your home, you have a water loss claim. Other examples are broken water lines, water that overflows from an appliance such as a dishwasher, a hot water heater break or a ruptured ice maker line to name a few. For these types of losses to be covered they must be sudden and accidental. Long-term water leaking issues are generally excluded. But for those who are covered for a water loss, a common mistake insured policyholders often make is to report them as a flood loss. While seemingly a flood to the policyholder, reporting a water loss as a flood is a sure bet to get you off to a wrong start with your property insurer who might use that statement against you.
Flood loss: The NFIP has a definition for a flood event. In order for a flood to be covered in their policy, flooding conditions must meet the following conditions: “A flood is a general temporary condition where two or more acres of normally dry land or two or more properties are inundated by water or mudflow. In the insurance world, a flood loss occurs when water originates from outside a building or home. Generally, a flood loss results from rising water. If this water enters into the building it will not be covered under most standard property insurance policy forms. Insurance coverage from a flood event will only occur if the property owner purchased a flood policy from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). There are other flood policies such as excess flood insurance as well as some types of manuscript policies generally sold to commercial clients. Some state regulators have recently approved some private carriers to sell their own brand of flood policies.
Flood Damage Claim Tips
- Take photographs of all damaged content items including discarded objects, structural damage you intend to claim.
- Make a list of damaged or lost items by the room and include their date of purchase, value, and receipts.
- Take photographs of the water line (standing flood water levels) both inside and outside the residence. Note how long the water remained in the house if possible.
- Make sure the replacement cost includes sales tax and delivery/setup fees for each item. Don’t undervalue your content items.
- Officials may require disposal of damaged items so, if possible, place flooded items outside of the home.
- Reference the consumer NFIP Handbook and more technical Insurer’s Flood Insurance Manual
Cleaning Up After the Flood
- Help prevent mold by removing wet contents immediately. Saturated carpeting, stuffed furniture, bedding and any other items holding dampness, moisture or water inside the property should be removed – but samples saved.
- Get a written quote from the dry out restoration contractor before they do the work and make sure to get it approved by your insurance carrier. Beware of Assignment of Benefits clauses in contracts that assign all your claim benefits to the contractor.
- Keep notes of your conversations/agreements with adjuster and carrier representatives. Get the company adjuster's e-mail and regular mail as well and document everything in writing. Don't rely on verbal comments from the insurance company. Save important voice mails.
- Walls, floors, doors, closets and shelves should be thoroughly washed and disinfected to help avoid mold.
- Thoroughly dry out the properties’ interior using a portable dehumidifier (rental costs may be covered by flood policy). Your air conditioner can also be used to start the drying process.
- If the walls are damaged, take photographs of the baseboard, then remove it. Knock small holes at floor level in the drywall between the wall studs to permit moisture trapped behind the drywall to seep out and begin drying.
- Have your furnace and hot water heater checked for damage. While they may seem to work, the floodwater may have damaged the internal elements.
Managing the Repair Process
- Depending on when the adjuster gets to your property, many claims are settled within 30 to 60 days of the filing. Repairs however, will probably take longer than this. Be attentive. Ensure you get a quality job at a fair price.
- For major repairs, get a minimum of three estimates. Don’t hesitate to question the contractors on variations in pricing.
- Make sure all estimates provide work details, offer a fixed price and are signed.
- Never proceed with repairs on the basis of a verbal agreement.
- Ask for state licenses and references and take the time to call them. Natural disasters often attract unqualified contractors looking to work for cash.
But what if you do not have flood insurance? Are they out of luck? Maybe not, the facts of a loss need to be closely looked at to see if some other insurance coverage may kick in like a standard homeowner’s policy or a business property policy. Remember, when flooding occurs, other events were likely happening at the same time or in close proximity to the rising water. Events like pounding rainwater against homes and buildings, rainwater ponding on roof’s, high winds with flying debris, sewer backups and the list could go on and on depending on the fact issues of each property or the specific geographic location. In fact, one property can have completely different fact issues or patterns of damages than their neighbor next door or other property owners blocks or miles away.
So how does insurance work when there may be a combination of events i.e., different perils that may have caused damage at the same time or in close proximity to each other with some that may be covered and others that may be excluded depending on your insurance policy terms and conditions?
In a scenario with different causes of loss (depending on when and how they impacted the insured property) you may find yourself in the murky waters of legal terms like “concurrent causation”, “anti-concurrent causation”, “efficient proximate cause” and similar terms that have evolved with the expansion of insurance coverages such as all-risk coverage as well as exclusions that are written to be exceptions to all risk forms. Some of these claims will be litigated in court between attorneys.
The take away is that you need to read and review your policy with someone who knows coverage. If there is not an anti-concurrent clause and you have a flood and a wind loss, some parts of the whole loss may be covered provided that the policy holder can prove the wind (or another covered cause of loss) caused some damages being claimed.
The following example speaks to how you might find other coverage if the loss conditions and pattern of damages are documented and you are aggressive in pursuing your claim. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan devastated the Florida panhandle. The flooding was so severe that part of the interstate highway over the bay was washed away. My client, who was circuit court judge and served on the county’s emergency management committee, which meant that at the time of the hurricane, he was in a secure bunker helping coordinate emergency rescue operations. At the same time his family’s home was being battered by hurricane force winds and subsequently his home was completely washed away by the floodwaters surging across the bay.
To their credit, this family had the foresight to purchase flood insurance but even at maximum limits the payout was woefully inadequate to cover their losses. I was retained to see if other coverage could be obtained. After doing a site inspection, reviewing weather and other available reports, it was my opinion that this home was severely damaged by wind first. This allowed water to enter through damaged openings destroying most if not all the personal property as well as parts of interiors wall surfaces. The battle with the homeowner carrier was not easy but at the end of the day this family recovered a very significant settlement from their homeowner’s insurance carrier due to wind and water damage before the flood. When added to the flood payments, it allowed them to recovery for the majority of their losses.
My guess is that most private insurers will not volunteer to make payments under any other covered loss where flooding caused significant damages. But it does not hurt to press them regarding other possible covered items that may have damaged your property before it was flooded or washed away. Also, remember that if you have a mortgage on your property most lenders have their portfolios insured and there is a good chance your home or business while not covered by a government flood policy, may be covered under your lenders policy. This may benefit you if your lender receives funds to cover their loss and potentially may extinguish or reduce your mortgage obligation to your lender. Again it does not hurt to ask. Call your lender and ask them if your mortgage is in the pool that insures all the properties they have loaned money on. If so, file a claim and a proof of loss with your mortgage holder for the amount of your mortgage.
Rebuilding After a Flood
"The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is part of FEMA, requires you to file a document called a Proof of Loss within 60 days of the flood detailing everything you are claiming. FEMA may (and typically does with large storms) extend the deadline to one year given the severity of the damage. Do not procrastinate however since the sooner you get your claim in the sooner it will be reviewed. We saw many with Sandy claims wait until the last minute and the NFIP can actually deny your claim if you cannot meet their deadline. To understand more details about the flood program, read our blog Understanding the Nuances of Flood Insurance. Of course, properly filing your flood claim is another hurdle as the proof of loss requires quite some detail. So, if you have a large loss or are confused by the process, you may wish to seek the services of a professional Public Adjuster or insurance attorney who is trained and well versed in the process.It’s not always easy, but the time you take to follow your insurance policy guidelines and ensure your repairs are completed properly, will be well worth it in the long run. While you can’t control when a flood will occur, you can control how well you recover. Keeping accurate records, document everything, in writing and with photos, keep all receipts and itemized lists. Most of all be patient and understand this is an administrative process that takes time.
If you have questions regarding any property insurance related issue caused by Hurricane Eta please call 813-296-6233 or contact a licensed Florida Public Adjuster to submit a question to one of our insurance claim experts.