FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Hurricane Irma made landfall more than a year ago, but some of the damage left behind by the storm is just starting to show.
The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (https://www.floir.com/Office/HurricaneSeason/HurricaneIrmaClaimsData.aspx ) reports nearly a million Hurricane Irma insurance claims have been filed in the wake of the storm. Nearly a third of those claims have been closed, unpaid.
"They send you a very official looking letter, that really is scary and off-putting to a lot of people," said Marc Ben-Ezra, referring to those insurance company denial letters.
Ben-Ezra is the managing attorney of the Florida Professional Law Group (https://flplg.com/).
"When you read that, you say, 'Oh my God, I'm sunk. There's nothing I can do. That's it.'"
Au contraire, he said. "People have rights, and you need somebody to help you understand your rights."
Ben-Ezra said statutes of limitations on insurance claims vary, but there’s still plenty of time to file a claim.
MAKE SURE YOU’VE PURCHASED THE RIGHT POLICY.
Ben-Ezra said policies usually start out providing broad coverage. “But as you get more and more into the details and fine print, they start having exceptions and exclusions and limitations that start to take away coverage.”
MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND YOUR POLICY
It’s crucial to make sure you fully understand what your policy does and does not cover.
"If there's any doubt about whether there should or shouldn't be coverage—if there's an ambiguity, the law says that ambiguity should fall on the side of the insured," said Ben-Ezra. "But, it could be that you need somebody to call the insurance company on that."
Ben-Ezra said he’s seen instances in which insurance companies issued denial letters citing language that's supposedly from the insured's policy but upon further review, that language doesn't even exist in the denied holder’s policy.
"That poor homeowner, because of language that’s not even in their policy, could really get stuck," he said. "That needs to be delved into."
'DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT'
Another way to protect yourself is to document the pre-storm condition of your property, and we’re talking inside and outside.
"One way to think of the contents is, if you took your house, turned it upside down, and shook it, what would fall out,” said Ben-Ezra.
"[If] somebody does have a big hole in their roof, and tons of water pours in, you're going to have contents that get messed up.” A photo, video inventory makes it easy to show what you have, and what condition it was in before and after a storm.
KNOW YOUR OPTIONS
Ben-Ezra also warns against making small, insignificant claims. And he said always stick to what you know—never guess when it comes to insurance claims.
Many insurance law attorneys handle claims cases on a contingency, meaning they don't collect unless you do.