Property owners often insure their property against losses due to natural disasters. If you are a property owner and you have an insurance policy for your property, you should be able to tell from the insurance policy itself what kinds of risks your policy covers. Some policies include risks of property damage due to natural disasters, and some policies exclude such risks.
So, if your property has been damaged by a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or a tornado, check your insurance policy to see if your policy covers such events. Call your insurance agent to report the damage and ask for claim forms to file a claim. If you have not yet suffered a loss from a natural disaster, you might want to review your coverage with your insurance agent to be sure that your policy meets your needs.
Since insurance policies can be difficult for a layperson to understand, you may need to contact an insurance lawyer to explain your policy provisions to you. If you speak with a lawyer before you file your written claim with your insurance company, your lawyer can advise you about certain situations that may come up in the processing of your claim.
Insurance Company Tactics
Insurance companies try to save money when paying claims. If you have a dispute with your insurance company about the value of your claim, your insurance company will probably view the situation in its favor. For instance, if you have more than one insurance policy, your insurance company may expect you to pay the deductible on each of your policies. If you have separate policies covering wind and flood damage, you'd have to sustain both types of damage before you'd have to pay a deductible on each policy. If both policies apply, the total amount of coverage includes the limits of both policies. For damage covered by one policy, you should only have to pay more than one deductible if there was more than one disaster, for example, damage from two separate storms, resulting in two claims. However, it is unlawful if an insurance company tries to apply multiple deductibles when there has only been one disaster.
Some insurance companies may scare you into thinking that they are going to cancel your policy if you make a claim. They can't cancel your policy if you report a natural disaster claim because you did not cause the natural disaster.
Responsibility for Specific Items
Some damages are typically covered by natural disaster insurance, and your insurance company should pay for them. These include reimbursement for:
- Carpeting. If your carpeting was ruined by a covered event, such as a flood, don't let your insurance company convince you that it merely has to be cleaned. Your insurer should pay to replace the carpet, including the carpet pad and the installation.
- Asbestos. Many homes built before 1978 contain asbestos in the walls and ceilings, and asbestos can be a hazard if not properly removed or contained. The asbestos has to be removed by a qualified contractor and your insurer should pay for the removal.
- Mold. If mold is discovered, you should present a claim for remediation and repair. If your home has a mold problem, all of the fabric items in your home will have to be replaced.
- Painting. Your insurance company is responsible for all of the costs incurred in painting your home. That includes removing furniture, light fixtures and electrical outlets and then replacing them when the painting is finished.
- Repair of walls and insulation. If the walls and insulation are damaged by flood waters, your insurance company has to pay to replace them. That includes crown and base moldings on the walls, in addition to drywall and the insulation behind the walls.
- Loss of power. If you lost power because of the natural disaster, you are entitled to payment for the food in your refrigerator. The insurer also has to pay for an electrician to inspect the wiring in your house.
- Additional living expenses. If you have to move out of your home during or after the disaster, your insurer should cover the additional living expenses you have to pay for while your home is being repaired, such as hotel charges or rent for a temporary home.
Bad Faith of the Insurance Company
Your insurance company has a duty to act in good faith and to deal fairly with you. It acts in bad faith if it makes up a reason to deny your claim or it looks for ways to escape its obligation to you. If your insurance company acts in bad faith in denying your claim, you can sue the company for the amount that should have been paid on the claim. You may also be able to obtain payment for attorney's fees and court costs.
More than One Home
Many people own two homes, one in a cold weather climate and one in a warm weather climate. These two homes should be covered by different insurance policies. For example, a home in New York City is not likely to face the same weather conditions as a home in Key West, Florida. New York City has cold weather conditions, and a home there is more likely to be damaged by frozen water pipes or ice damming than by the hurricane conditions that will threaten the Florida home. You should make sure that your insurance policies are a good fit for your situation.
Home Based Businesses
Most homeowner's insurance policies do not automatically cover a business that is located in the home. If you have a home business, make sure that you obtain property insurance for your home and your business. You may need additional coverage for business equipment or inventory that you store in your home.
If you have any questions about filing a natural disaster insurance claim, contact an insurance lawyer in your area.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Will my insurance policy pay for both wind damage and flood damage?
- If some risks are excluded in my property insurance policy, such as flood damage, and some risks are covered, such as wind damage, can I collect under the policy if my property sustained both flood and wind damage?
- Can I obtain punitive damages against my insurance company for bad faith denial of a claim?