As Hurricane Irma barreled through Florida, it left a path of destruction and uncertainty. First and foremost, we hope that you and your families are safe and recovering well from the storm. We also want you to know that, if you sustained any damage, we are here to provide you with guidance and counsel during the insurance claim process and help ease your uncertainties.

As you may know, insurance policies are complex contracts with many pitfalls and nuances. The failure to properly navigate the insurance policy and claim process can delay payment of benefits to you, result in an underpayment of benefits and/or denial of your claim. Although the applicable terms and conditions of your policy(ies) will control the mutual rights and obligations of you and the insurance company, below are some of the most frequently asked questions to assist you and your friends, colleagues and business relationships in this process:

How long do I have to report my Hurricane Irma claim?

Depending on the terms of the insurance policy, notice must be immediate, timely or prompt. Although immediate, timely, or prompt notice must be given, most insurance policies do not define these terms or provide a fixed period of time within which you are required to report the loss. Some commercial policies do outline a specific deadline and it is important to be familiar with the policy’s terms. Most often, notice is necessary when there has been an occurrence that would lead a reasonably prudent person to believe that a claim for damages would arise. Acting with little or no delay will help you protect your rights under the insurance policy and increase the chances of a timely resolution.

A failure to provide immediate, timely, or prompt notice may jeopardize your right to benefits under the policy.

In addition to the terms of the insurance policy, under Florida law, a claim, supplemental claim or reopened claim caused by windstorms such as Hurricane Irma is barred unless notice is given to the insurance company within 3 years.

What should I report?

Report what you observe. You are not expected to have in depth understanding of how wind impacted your roof. Those distinctions are left for the professionals. Give a description of what you have experienced and what you see. Once you have reported the claim, follow up to obtain your claim number and the name of the adjuster who is assigned to your loss. Make sure you get written confirmation/acknowledgment of your report and check it for accuracy.

Be cognizant of what you post on social media. You may not understand the full extent of damages and social media postings describing your damage as “minor” or otherwise, may be used against you at a later date by the insurance company.

What if I need to leave my property or evacuate occupants?

Your safety and the safety of your occupants is of utmost importance. If you need to leave or incur extra expenses to relocate your family, unit owners, or tenants, or provide for their well-being, keep an accurate record of these costs. Most insurance policies have provisions for the recovery of additional living expenses and extra expenses in the event these costs are necessary.

Does my property insurance policy cover flood damage?

Generally, no. Flood coverage is typically outlined in a separate policy authorized by the federal government and subject to different standards and time constraints which require prompt and immediate attention.

Also, although it is unlikely that you were able to observe what specific damage wind forces caused before any flooding occurred, this distinction is critical in terms of identifying the scope of coverage potentially available to you for damage to the property.

Insurance companies generally investigate wind claims differently than flood claims. When multiple perils such as wind and flood are alleged to have caused damage during a hurricane, insurance companies are likely to consider each peril to be a separate event or occurrence even though the perils originated from the same storm. This distinction gives an insurer additional grounds for denying coverage in whole or in part and may greatly affect your entitlement to insurance benefits.

Does the independent adjuster have authority to issue payment?

The insurance company employs “independent adjusters” to assess a claim and write an estimate for damages. These adjusters, although designated as “independent” work directly for the insurance company and do not work for you as an insured. The independent adjuster does not have authority to acknowledge coverage on the insurance company’s behalf and does not have authority to issue payment.

Should I hire a public adjuster?

Public adjusters can be a great asset following a loss. A licensed public adjuster can deal directly with the insurance company on your behalf and will assist in reporting the claim, producing documents, inspecting the loss, preparing a loss assessment and negotiating the claim. A public adjuster is also familiar with the insurance policy’s terms and conditions and will make sure that you receive all benefits that are due and owing.

How much can a public adjuster charge for a Hurricane Irma claim?

A public adjuster’s fee for Hurricane Irma claims is capped at 10% of the total claim recovery.

Can a contractor handle my insurance claim for me?

Contractors or other emergency responders may offer to assist with the submission of an insurance claim. If they do so, they may be illegally engaging in the practice of public adjusting without the proper training, licensing, regulation and oversight required by the Florida Department of Financial Services. Illegally acting as a public adjuster in any manner by negotiating or effecting the settlement of an insurance claim on behalf of an insured for money, commission or anything of value without being properly licensed is subject to third degree felony charges.

Not only are these individuals engaging in unlicensed activity, their involvement may significantly jeopardize your right to recover insurance benefits from your property insurance carrier. Florida insurance companies have aggressively litigated and lobbied for better consumer protections for this type of unlicensed activity. The involvement of an unscrupulous contractor or other emergency restoration service in the submission and negotiation of an insurance claim will likely raise an immediate warning flag to the insurance company which may subject you to additional scrutiny, delay and denial of benefits.

Should I sign an Assignment of Benefits?

If you are asked to execute an Assignment of Benefits or similar form by a contractor or other emergency restoration company, make sure you clearly understand what rights and benefits under your insurance policy you may be giving away. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. If substantial damages and benefits are at risk, consult with an experienced insurance coverage attorney. You are not required to sign an Assignment of Benefits to have your insurance claim processed.

Is my insurance company subject to Florida law?

All insurance companies are subject to certain laws, however these laws differ depending on whether the insurance company is an out of state carrier, known as a surplus lines insurer. If your insurance company is a surplus lines insurer, there are some distinctions regarding what provisions of the Florida statutes apply.