February 23rd, 2018
by, Katherine L. Sloan, Esq.
Five months have passed since Hurricane Irma devastated much of the State of Florida. Unfortunately, for many homeowners affected by the devastating storm, the true battle is just beginning. As Floridians report devastating losses to their insurance carriers, many find that these reports are met with either a lack of response from the carrier, or the offer of a settlement check that does not even begin to scratch the surface towards repairing their damaged homes.
It is important for homeowners to be aware that in the State of Florida (and a few other jurisdictions across the country), Section 627.7142, Florida Statutes outlines a Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights detailing the rights of a personal lines residential property insurance policyholder who files a claim with his or her insurance carrier. In fact, in many cases, insurance carriers must provide this Homeowner Bill of Rights to a policyholder within fourteen days after receipt of a claims communication. Under this Homeowner Bill of Rights, the policyholder has a right to:
- Receive acknowledgment of their claim within 14 days after the claim was communicated to the insurer.
- Receive communication from the insurer as to the claim being covered in full, partially covered, or denied, or a written statement that your claim is being investigated, within 30 days after the company receives the policyholders completed proof of loss form.
- Subject to any dual interest noted in the policy, receive full payment of the claim, the undisputed portion of the claim, or the denial of the claim within 90 days.
- Free mediation of your disputed claim, offered through the Division of Consumer Services, under most circumstances and subject to certain restrictions.
- Neutral evaluation of a disputed sinkhole claim if the claim is due to sinkhole damage and is covered under the policy.
- The availability of assistance with any insurance claim or questions pertaining to the handling of your claim from the Division on the notice.
A homeowner dealing with his or her insurance company in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma would be wise to make sure that emergency repairs necessary to prevent further damage are completed and documented. It is also critical to take photographs both before and after any repairs that are completed to document each and every undertaking at the property. To the extent that the repairs are not an emergency and do not require immediate attention, it is important that a homeowner contact the insurer prior to undertaking these types of repairs to provide the carrier with an opportunity to inspect the home. It also never hurts to obtain estimates from licensed general contractors to properly assess the amount of damages at issue. Finally, it is critical for a homeowner to carefully read all correspondence—including any settlement checks that may contain policy release language—from the insurance carrier and cooperate by providing information that may be requested.
Navigating an insurance claim can be a confusing and arduous process. It is always best to consult with an attorney that specializes in insurance coverage disputes to assist in the process.