Guide to Property Damage Caused by Tropical Storm Eta

Tropical Storm Eta made its fourth landfall on November 12, 2020 at approximately 4:00 a.m. just south of Cedar Key Florida. Upon landfall, Tropical Storm Eta had reported wind speeds of 50 mph, with gusts exceeding 50 mph. According to the National Hurricane Center, tropical storm force winds extended 115 miles from Eta’s center causing far reaching damage for thousands of unsuspecting Floridians.

During the days leading up to Eta’s Cedar Key landfall, meteorologists, storm modeling programs, and the National Hurricane Center had difficulty trying to forecast Eta’s projected track. Due to these difficulties, many of Florida’s coastal residents were unprepared for the storm surge and wind damage that actually occurred. With widespread flooding up and down Florida’s west coast and Eta’s tropical storm force winds causing windstorm damage, Floridians are left asking, “What now”?

What to Do With Property Damage After Tropical Storm Eta

While cleaning up and drying out may be on the top of many people’s lists, before jumping into those momentous tasks, be sure to file a flood insurance claim and/or a homeowner’s insurance claim. These two types of insurance are separate and distinct from one another. Homeowner’s insurance policies specifically exclude damage that is caused by flood waters. This means that in order to recover for loss caused by flood waters, you must also have a Flood Insurance Policy. Flood Insurance Policies are governed by the National Flood Insurance Program and have their own requirements. One of the nuanced issues in flood insurance policies is that they are able to be issued without contents coverage. If you have suffered flood damage and you have flood insurance, be sure to determine if your flood policy has coverage for contents. This is the coverage that will replace your personal items damaged by the flood waters.

Non-Flood Related Damage Caused by ETA

Non-flood related damage caused by Eta should fall under your homeowner’s insurance policy. Non-flood related damages can be roof damage, roof leaks, window damage from flying debris, tree damage, fence damage and so on. Because Eta was not classified as a hurricane for very long, it will likely not be classified as a hurricane for purposes of insurance claims for the most of the damage it caused throughout Florida. The distinction between whether Eta was a hurricane or tropical storm is important when determining what insurance deductible applies. Most non-hurricane homeowners insurance deductibles are lower than hurricane deductibles, so it is important to understand which deductible your insurance company is attempting to impose.

Timely reporting of your flood and or windstorm claim is imperative. If there is a delay in reporting the loss, the insurance companies will argue that they should not have to pay due to your delay in reporting the claim. Taking steps to protect your home after a flood or windstorm loss is equally important as timely reporting. Insurance policies have language which requires homeowners to take protective measures in the event of a loss to prevent further damage. The insurance companies and their adjusters (who oftentimes come from out of state chasing storm claims) will attempt to deny or restrict insurance coverages if they think that a homeowner did not take protective measures.

Taking protective measures to protect your home after a loss is important but be sure to take plenty of photos and videos of the damage, paying particular attention to areas of damage that were a source of water intrusion. Once you have reported your insurance claim, documented the damage, and taken protective measures to prevent more damage, the clean up can begin. During your clean up, be sure to save all damaged items to allow the insurance adjusters an opportunity to inspect these items. If they cannot inspect items which you are claiming were lost, they will attempt to deny your claims on those items because they didn’t get a chance to inspect them.

Flood Related Damage Caused by ETA

After a flood loss, it is important to begin the dry out process as soon as possible. Many people turn to remediation companies to help them in this endeavor. There are many remediation companies out there, and like with any industry, some are better than others. Be sure to do your homework on any remediation company you choose to hire. Read the contracts they ask you to sign. Many of the contracts have language in them that hold the homeowner responsible for billed services that the insurance company does not pay for. While this may seem logical enough, some remediation companies have been known to over bill for their services, which don’t get entirely paid by the insurance companies and then the unexpecting homeowner is left with a massive bill which is contractually owed to the remediation company. These types of remediation companies have no problem filing liens against your home for failing to pay the invoices for purposted services rendered.

Assignment of Benefits

Another issue to look out for when hiring a remediation company is whether they ask you to sign an Assignment of Benefits. An Assignment of Benefits is a contract that a homeowner signs with a remediation company “assigning” the homeowner’s insurance benefits to the contractor in exchange for the contractor’s promise to do the remediation work. In this scenario, the remediation company then “stands in the shoes” of the insured homeowner for purposes of making the insurance claim. The remediation company then moves forward with the work and submits the bills for services rendered to the insurance company. This may sound enticing but what ends up happening is that the insurance company may not pay for some or all of the work the remediation company performed. Then the remediation company, “standing in the shoes” of the homeowner, files a lawsuit against the insurance company for failing to pay. At this juncture, the homeowner has no say in this decision because the remediation company owns the homeowner’s rights under the policy of insurance. There may also be language in the Assignment of Benefits which requires the homeowner to pay for any invoices that the insurance company fails to pay.

These examples of pitfalls with some remediation companies are meant to educate consumers. In the wake of Tropical Storm Eta, it is important that homeowners are not taken advantage of by individuals or companies looking to profit from others misfortunes. If you have any questions or concerns about what to do for your insurance claim(s) following Tropical Storm Eta, please don’t hesitate to reach out to St Petersburg Property Damage Attorney Jonathon Douglas for a free, no obligation consultation. St Petersburg Property Damage Attorney Jonathon Douglas helps homeowners and business owners hold their insurance companies accountable when they fail to pay for claims or underpay insurance claims. Don’t let the insurance company and its representatives push you around. You have paid your insurance premiums and all too often, the insurance companies try to take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners. Don’t become a victim of these unscrupulous insurance practices. Call or email now!