Get the Money You’re Owed: Three Ways to Ensure Your Insurance Policy Pays for All Natural Disaster Damages
Taking insurance money after a natural disaster could be a big mistake. Brent Coon, triple board certified attorney in personal injury trial law, civil trial law and civil discovery trial law, who has recovered in excess of a billion dollars for victims of catastrophic injury, occupational disease, pharmaceutical harm, environmental pollution and natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods, advises home owners impacted by natural disasters to know their policies and exercise due diligence before settling with their insurance company.
The native Gulf Coaster, who started his career in construction work as a contractor, says many victims of wind and water damage caused by recent storms like Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida, take money that insurance assesses is sufficient to repair all damages only to discover during restoration and construction, the damages are above and beyond the initial assessment.
“Once someone takes the money, most of the time, it’s game over,” said Coon. “If you are concerned you have hidden damages, you can try and be your own lawyer and say what you’re accepting now is only for this work. You can try to do that, but the bottom line is that most people end up getting turned inside out on that process. It’s hard to do.”
Coon warns against what’s called, ‘latent damage’ or ‘hidden damage’ and provides ways for insured victims of recent disasters to protect themselves from being shorted money needed to fully recover from damages.
First, know your insurance policies and know what’s covered.
Coon says there are different policies that cover different types of losses especially along the Gulf Coast.
Many policies that impact homeowners and businesses are uniquely crafted therefore homeowners and business owners must know what losses are covered.
Coon says there are some basic types of policies including:
– Windstorm insurance covers any wind from hurricanes.
– Flood insurance covers rising tides or flooding in your neighborhood.
– Combination insurance covers both wind and water damage.
– Business Interruption insurance covers the loss of business incurred while not being able to operate for a period of time due to the storm.
Coon says a good way to think about insurance coverage is to remember wind causes damage from the top down and flood causes damage from the ground up.
He also says he is always surprised at how many business owners don’t know the coverage that they have and don’t submit claims to recoup losses based on the interruptions caused by the storm.
“Many business owners are focused on getting back to business, which is forward thinking and great, but they forget they have insurance that can restore them financially. Even if your business is not shut down, access is shut down; the inability to just have people get back to work is another significant impact; rebuilding your client base again, all impacts on your business.”
Because policies are uniquely written on the Gulf Coast, Coon says many of them need legal analysis, especially business policies. “We bring accountants and CPAs to work through models and abstract out projections on what the total business interruption losses were,” said Coon. “A lot of times policies are ambiguous about what they do and what they cover, all the more reason to have lawyers working with you on it and always accentuate the positive on what you believe coverage can be.”
Second, once you’ve identified all of your policies, you get in touch with your insurance agent.
The agent then put you in touch with an adjuster. Sometimes adjusters work for the insurance company and sometimes they are ‘storm chasers’ who contract with insurance companies and go where the disasters are. While storm chasers help with an overwhelming workload in a disaster-stricken community, Coon believes there can be disadvantageous to working with those storm chasers who are also chasing additional work from the insurance company they’re representing. “Adjusters that want to get hired to go to work for these insurance companies, they many times see themselves trying to do a good job for the insurance company adjusting the claim and don’t do a good job for the insured. As a consequence, they tend to be very conservative with what they estimate are storm related damages and they tend to be conservative with what they estimate to be the costs of those repairs.”
Third, assess for yourself the insurance adjuster’s offer.
If you are sure based on your knowledge of your damages or have a construction or contractor background or have consulted with someone who has a construction background and know that the insurance money offered will completely repair you damages then you can sign the release and take the insurance money. However, if you know that the money offered is not sufficient for the repairs, if you are concerned about uncovering additional repairs in the restoration process or you were just outright denied coverage, consult an attorney.
“We don’t even charge unless we recover for the insured,” said Coon. “So consult with an attorney who has the skill sets and has the background to at least get a second opinion if you are really unsure about what you need to be doing.”
According to Coon, a good lawyer will review pictures of damages, the value of the home and the insurance company’s offer for the loss and give an honest assessment. “If what we see is not a big difference in what the real damage appears to be, then you’re better off with doing the best you can with what you have on the table,” said Coon. “But most of the time people come in to see us is because there is a significant disparity between what they’ve been offered and what we believe their damages are.”
Coon considers “significant” to be 50 percent more than what the insured was offered. “A lot times when insurance companies know you’ve retained counsel, and they know what they’re getting into and they know they have a chance of coming out on the short end of the stick, they all of a sudden want to make it right.”
The waiting period for individual lawsuits is much shorter than for mass litigation, said Coon. Typically, an insurance suit is resolved within one to two years until you get to trial and rarely do these cases go to trial. “Many of these cases resolve within a matter of weeks after they (the insured) retain counsel,” said Coon. “We have the ability to call them out on their appraisals and sometimes insurance companies, once they are called out by a professional, will say ‘okay, what do we need to do.’ It’s just the way it is. It adds a great deal more credence to your position than just an individual complaint.”
Coon advises insured victims to allow an attorney to intercede early on to resolve disputes and to consult with a firm that has skill sets and expertise in that field to ensure success.
Brent Coon & Associates has the financial resources to carry a contingency case, even a lengthy one, to trial, a state-of-the-art IT department for the ease and access of handling documents, 20 year’s experience handling mass disaster-type cases and impressive national credentials.
“No one has tried more cases in the civil arena than we have,” Coon said. That history is important as the track record of courtroom experience and success are barometers insurance companies look at when settling a claim. “The good news when looking at these types of storm cases, like the ones from Ike and Rita, I think every one of them settled satisfactorily out of court.” Our reputation fortunately precedes us, and they know we aren’t bluffing when we dispute their position and say, OK, see you at the courthouse”. That usually gets them to come around to our position.