Dealing with family issues is important. But if your home or business was damaged by Tropical Storm Harvey or its aftermath, the most important thing you can do for your family is to secure them. So we are taking a break in this blog post from matters of family law to answer the following top five post-Harvey FAQs:
- When should I inspect my property? If you’ve been displaced, do not return to your property until local authorities have declared the area safe. Dangers include downed power lines, broken gas lines, hidden debris, structural damage, electrical issues, and standing water. If you have suffered damage to your roof, walls, or foundation, contact an electrician before flipping any switches. When you return, take pictures of the damage to the structure and your belongings, paying particular attention to valuables. Save samples of damaged flooring, such as carpeting, padding or hardwood tiles, as additional evidence. If you are able to safely do so, limit further damage by applying a tarp to cover holes in your home or building.
- How should I communicate with my insurance company? Submit your claim in writing to remove any argument about when you contacted your insurance carrier and what was said by whom. Communications should preferably be by email, fax, or certified mail (return receipt requested). Keep hard copies of all written communications sent to and received from your insurer, your agent, and your adjuster, including envelopes showing the postmarks. For oral communications, take detailed notes of who said what to whom. Send a follow-up email to the insurance company and everyone involved in the conversation confirming the discussion. Construct a detailed, precise, and organized paper trail of all written and oral communications.
- How and when should I file my insurance claim? You may have suffered both wind and water damage. File a written claim with every insurance company with which you have coverage—including flood insurance, homeowner’s insurance, business insurance, and windstorm insurance. File your claim as soon as you discover damage and sort it out later. Don’t wait. Get in line now. The sooner you start the claims process, the sooner an adjuster will arrive, and the sooner you will get paid. Tell the insurance company that your home or business suffered damage as a result of Tropical Storm Harvey, and include your full name, contact information, and policy number, if you have it with you. You do not have to wait to file a claim until you have pictures of the damage.
- What is the Texas Blue Tarp Bill and what does it do? The Blue Tarp Bill went into effect on September 1, 2017. Hopefully you filed your insurance claims before then. The Blue Tarp Bill (1) slashed penalties on property insurance companies that will empower them to delay payments on claims, (2) will force many insurance cases into our backlogged and understaffed federal courts, where it takes twice as long to receive justice, (3) imposes additional costs on property owners, and (4) may make it harder for insureds to find a lawyer willing to take their case. The Blue Tarp Bill does nothing to ensure that weather-related property claims are paid on time or in full, meaning it effectively punishes Texas homeowners and business owners. Regardless of what Governor Abbott says on television, it is a law that insurance industry lobbyists wanted, and he and the Texas Legislature delivered to them.
- Should I deposit this insurance check? If an insurance company sends you a check, read it and any corresponding paperwork very carefully before depositing the check. If the check or paperwork states “claims payment,” “claims settlement,” “claims release,” or contains similar language, do not deposit the check unless you are satisfied with the amount. Otherwise, you may be foreclosed from receiving further payments if additional damage is discovered.
Sonya B. Coffman is a Board Certified family lawyer in Beaumont, Texas. She also is a C.P.A. The Coffman Law Firm deals with insurance and property matters—all day, every day.