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Hurricane Sandy Damage Claim Attorney

On October 29th and 30th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy ripped across Maryland, leaving in her wake billions in property damage, flooding and power outages.
If hurricane Sandy's wrath caused loss or damage to your family, there are important questions you'll need to have answered, and have answered quickly. The recovery is underway. As Maryland rebuilds, hurricane damage claims will pour into the major insurance companies, and the battle for a full and fair recovery will be underway. You may find that consulting with an experienced hurricane damage attorney can provide you with the guidance and direction you need in difficult times.
In the wake of the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes that devastated Florida, I litigated multiple hurricane property damage claims, ranging in size from a few hundred for a downed tree, to several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The detailed articles share some of the knowledge we've gained in battling the insurance companies over previous unpaid or underpaid hurricane damage claims.
*Photo credit NOAA
Report it.
The first order of business is to let your insurance company know what has happened to you. Just like with power outages, never assume that someone has already reported it, or that the hurricane is so massive, everyone knows that everyone has hurricane damage. Promptly report the hurricane damage claim. In the immediate aftermath of a hurricane, you may not be able to get through on the phone. Send a letter or an email to your agent. If an insurance company asks you to describe the full extent of the hurricane damage- use this phrase, or something similar: "AS FAR AS I KNOW AT THIS TIME, THE HURRICANE DAMAGE IS .... HOWEVER I AM NOT A CONSTRUCTION PROFESSIONAL. I HAVE NO WAY TO KNOW THE FULL EXTENT OF POSSBLE HURRICANE DAMAGES. Do not underestimate, or lock yourself in to a specific list of damages [in the industry this is called "scope"] until you have all the facts. Do not guess. Early on, you truly have no idea what kind of subsequent problems even a small amount of water intrusion could cause. Structural defects may not be immediately apparent. Again, wait until you have all the facts. Some individuals choose to consult with a Maryland Hurricane Damage Attorney prior to meeting with adjusters or appraisers.
Understand your coverage.
This is likely an impossible task. Many trained, skilled and experienced Hurricane Damage attorneys struggle with this. Perhaps the most important thing for you to understand initially about coverage is "DO YOU HAVE IT". The distinctions between hurricane 'wind/rain' coverage, and flood coverage are explored in detail in another volume. Suffice it to say that most people with insurance have a policy that insures against damage from wind and rain, and most people do not have flood coverage, which insures against, well, floods- and storm surges are considered floods. But, aside from this basic question, you must review and understand the various coverages under your policy, and which ones apply to hurricane damage. Many insurance policies are intentionally written in Byzantine fashion, with the first few pages containing broad grants of hurricane coverage, and then 15 pages of "exclusions", "limitations" and lists of events not covered by the policy. In all seriousness- people undergo hours of training on how to decipher these things. You may want to enlist the help of a Maryland Hurricane Damage Attorney in assessing what coverage you have. For example- some policies will contain coverage for "ALE"- additional living expense, or "LOU" - loss of use. If you had to move out temporarily due to hurricane damage, your policy may well cover your hotel and additional food expenses. Does your policy have this coverage? Many policies provide coverage for "debris removal". In some instances, the homeowner would be responsible for the costs of removing that tree that fell down in the from yard. Is the tree considered debris that the insurance company should pay for? Does your policy have this coverage? Does your policy have tree removal coverage? What about the unfortunate situation where an older home has to be rebuilt due to hurricane damage, but the codes and ordinances have changed, so that to rebuild in compliance with code would be wildly more expensive than the actual replacement costs. Does your policy have coverage that would make up for this additional expense? An experienced Maryland Hurricane Damage Attorney can often provide guidance on these and other coverage questions .
Do I have Flood Insurance?
Here is perhaps the single most important concept surrounding this issue: YOUR HOMEOWNERS POLICY DOES NOT COVER FLOODS. Unless you have purchased separate flood insurance, then you do not have flood insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program was created in 1968, and provides flood coverage through the government and selected insurers. Most people don't have it. About 5.5 million do according to the NFIP. The Maryland Insurance Administration tells us that "[a] flood is generally defined in the Standard Flood Insurance policy as a 'general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or of two or more properties (at least one of which is your property) from overflow of inland or tidal waters, from unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source, or from mudflow". General homeowners policies DO NOT insure you against water damage. Damage from water is excluded. Typically excluded are any damages caused by "flood, surface water, waves, tidal waves, overflow of a body of water, spray from these, whether or not driven by wind." If the litigation surrounding hurricane Katrina is to provide us with any guidance, storm surge, overflowing rivers, creeks and lakes and ponds, pooling water or seeping water are all the type of water damage that is excluded from coverage under a homeowners policy. A creative Maryland Hurricane damage attorney may be able to assist you in by arguing that certain damages are due to rain, or wind driven rain, which typically is covered under most homeowner's policies.
What is my deductible?
Unfortunately, it might be a lot more than you think it is. Unfortunately, you also live in a state that allows higher deductibles for hurricane related damage. While your normal deductible may only be a few hundred dollars for typical property damage, Section 19-209 of the Maryland Insurance Article allows an insurance company to charge 5% [or more if they ask for permission] of the value of your home as a deductible for hurricane damage! You may want to consult with a Maryland Hurricane Damage Attorney to see if the correct deductible was assessed.
It may surprise many people to learn that their insurance polices actually have a list of things that they, as opposed to their insurance company that they pay all those premiums to, must do after a hurricane. These are usually found in a "Duties after Loss" section. Knowledgeable Maryland Hurricane Damage Attorneys know most polices, and Maryland law in general also require that the homeowner take reasonable measures to prevent further damage after the hurricane. Put a tarp on the roof. Patch the hole etc.
Unfair Claim Settlement Practices
Maryland law provides that is illegal for insurances companies to engage in certain conduct. Insurance companies are prohibited from misrepresenting facts or policy provisions as they relate to coverage; from refusing to pay a claim based on an arbitrary or capricious reason, or failing to promptly explain the basis for a denial; and from failing to settle one portion of claim to gain an advantage in another portion of the claim. Maryland Code, Insurance Article 27-303. If you feel your hurricane Sandy damage claim has not been handled appropriately, consult with a Maryland Hurricane Damage Attorney.
Is mold covered?
What is mold? The National Association of Home Builder's tells us that "mold is alive, but it is neither a plant nor an animal. Mold is a type of fungus." The EPA advises us that "molds can be found almost anywhere; they can grow on virtually any organic substance, as long as moisture and oxygen are present. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, foods, and insulation." Every house on the planet contains some mold. Most have manageable levels. The key to mold growth-and unmanageable levels of mold- is excess moisture. Not surprisingly, if a hurricane blows part of your roof off, and rain gets in, you may have problem with excess moisture. Knowledgeable hurricane damage attorneys have seen the results. Mold can cause substantial respiratory problems, especially in the very young and very old. After  hurricane Sandy, thousands of homeowners are likely to deal with mold remediation issues. Identifying, and fixing a mold issue is less than half the battle. Who pays to clean it up? Is there coverage under your homeowner's policy for mold? If so, does you policy cover the costs of remediation? Fixing an extensive mold problem can cost thousands. An experienced hurricane damage attorney can provide valuable guidance as to the types of coverage available under your policy.