If there is any downside to living in Florida, under the Florida sun for almost 12 months a year, it is the risk of a significant storm impacting our homes and way of life. Hurricanes, preparation for them, and dealing with the aftermath and insurance are all part of the Florida experience. Many of the storms come and do and all is well, but in those instances when you have sustained damage to your home and property, it is an experience you do not forget and would not wish on anyone. In times of need, members of the Garfinkel Law family of clients can rest assured that their interests are represented by some of the best attorneys in the industry, we know what you are going through and we are here to guide you through any needs you may have.
Hurricanes such as Charlie, Katrina, Irma and Ian, just to name a few, have uprooted the lives of countless Florida Communities and residents, who had to pick up the pieces after the storm, and at times deal with a home that has been damaged or destroyed and at the same time try to navigate the precarious demands of their insurance companies.
We all rely on insurance companies to make good on their promises, but sometimes that is not the case.
Garfinkel Law is here to help navigate insurance claims and make sure insurance companies make good on their coverage.
Hurricane Preparedness for Associations
Living in Florida we know that with June comes the start of the Hurricane Season. For those who have been in Florida for most of their lives, all they have to hear is Andrew, Charlie, Jean, Frances, Katrina, and Matthew and the memories of boarding up windows, placing sandbags, buying water, batteries, and nonperishable items, and fueling up generators, and any and all vehicles come back to life. If anyone in the household has medical needs you want to make sure that they will be comfortable where they are if power is lost and that medical supplies and medications are stocked up for a sufficient amount of time.
Hurricanes can be scary because they can result in the loss of property, possessions, and at times in the loss of life. The most important thing in preparing for any storm is to make sure that you and your loved ones are safe or have a means by which to get to safety. You want to make sure your loved ones and your pets are safe and secure. After confirming the safety of the loved ones in your life, the next thing that is a priority is probably your biggest investment: your home.
When preparing for a storm you want to make sure that windows are secure, loose furniture and materials outside have been put away, and that you have stocked up on adequate water, food, batteries, medicines, and fuel. You want to make sure that you have flashlights, candles, and an emergency radio available and that cell phones have been fully charged. Unfortunately, with most major storms comes loss of power, so being prepared before the lights go out and the air conditioning is no longer running is essential. It is also helpful to have some cash on hand, should power be lost and you find an open store after the storm (often the credit card machines are down).
If you live in a condominium or homeowner’s association, you want to make sure your homes are secure as well, but in addition to that, Associations, when preparing for a storm, must consider what needs to be done both before the storm strikes and after the storm has passed.
Luckily living in Florida, the legislature has recognized the seriousness of these storms and the need for Associations to have emergency powers in situations where a major storm event is looming. Florida Statutes Section 718.1265 has been enacted for condominiums and Florida Statutes Section 720.316 for homeowner’s associations.
If you live in an area commonly affected by hurricanes, make sure your insurance policy is in order.
If you’ve been hit by a hurricane and are having trouble getting your insurance claim paid, contact an attorney immediately.
Our Garfinkel Law hurricane insurance recovery group lawyers can help you recover the money you need to put the pieces back together.
Before The Storm
In general, one of the first steps to do in bracing for the storm is to properly prepare for the storm and what may be coming. As an Association you have responsibility for the common areas. So before the storm, you should make sure that the common elements are secure. Any loose items that could become projectiles should be stored inside.
You should consider that power will be lost, as a result, you should have a back up plan on paper. You should print out any information that may be needed if you cannot access a computer, that includes contact information for board members, members of the association and management, insurance policies and important phone numbers including those for utilities and emergency services.
Before the storm hits, you should make sure that all information is backed up on the computers and you should consider having an alternate source where the information is kept, perhaps in the cloud, on a thumb drive or even a CD.
One thing that is often forgotten is to turn off the irrigation system. Storms involve major water events and adding additional water may cause more problems.
If there are any gas lines or propane tanks on site you should turn them off and secure them.
Other important things that should be done include boarding of windows and confirmation that shutters are in place (if mandatory); posting updates to the community, as long as you have power; having an emergency plan where unit owners/residents can congregate if necessary; documenting the property by video and photos, and implementing a disaster plan before or immediately following the event for which a state of emergency is declared which may include, shutting down , elevators; electricity; water, sewer, security systems, and air conditioners.
The Association should also determine if there any areas of the condominium property that will be inaccessible to unit owners, family members, tenants, guests, agents, or invitees to protect the health, safety, or welfare of such persons and make sure an alternate means of ingress and egress are planned for. Consideration should also be given to mitigating and keeping the damage to a minimum by securing vendors, as soon as possible, who can assist in the removal of debris and prevent or reduce the spread of mold/fungus. Emergency personnel, maintenance, or association vendors may be needed to perform emergency repairs or secure the property where necessary to prevent further damage to the condominium property and/or to protect the health, safety and welfare of those in the community.
After The Storm
Once the storm has passed, you will want to check the property; however, please make sure it is safe before you venture onto the property. Trees and power lines may be down, so take care and check your surroundings before venturing outside.
Once you have confirmed that it is safe, we recommend that you walk the property to note any damage and reactivate any systems that were shut down prior to the storm such as irrigation, elevators, air conditioning, and gas lines.
We recommend that you videotape the property after the storm, just like you did prior to the storm. You can than compare the condition of the property before and after the storm from the video and photos taken.
You should also create a list of the damaged areas and follow up with a properly noticed board meeting to find out status of property and any damages from the residents. The residents should be instructed to document any property losses and to address damages inside the home with their homeowner’s insurance carrier.
As to Association property, you need to make sure that you timely notify your insurance carrier of any damages being claimed as a result of the storm. Depending on the type of damage, you may have to report to multiple carriers. So if property was damaged due to flood waters, you should consult your flood policy. If damage was done by wind, then you would check your property/hazard insurance. Flood claims are Federal claims and are handled differently than wind claims.
You must also consider that if major damage has been sustained—you may have to pay a sizable deductible before the insurance carrier will pay for damage. The association may need to use operating or reserve funds to cover the hurricane deductible and any emergency repairs needed. In determining how the Association should proceed and to consider potential financial exposure, you should contact vendors and start getting bids for work that needs to be done to correct, repair or replace those portions of the property that were damaged and/or destroyed.
We also recommend that you consider consulting an attorney for legal assistance regarding any insurance claim and the process.
The Folks at Garfinkel Law are Here to Help You Navigate the Process and to Assist You in Picking Up the Pieces. Please call us with any questions or needs you may have.
If you are involved in a storm and need additional information, please also consider these important links which contain helpful information:
Hope for Rebuilding
Garfinkel Law understands the inner workings of large insurance conglomerates and their often convoluted and intricate claims networks. Our clients need not worry about this process or their complicated insurance policies, as our dedicated team of attorneys will work with you to ensure that you are provided with the maximum available care, attention, and financial support needed to put the pieces back together.
That is why our Firm works with some of the very best attorneys prosecuting insurance claims who have previously worked for the nation’s largest insurance companies and can help you crack a system that routinely denies or underpays claims for many other communities. Collectively, our teams have amassed Tens of millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts against the nation’s largest insurance companies. We are proud to have nationally recognized authorities on Natural Disaster Law and casualty insurance claims at the helm of our property damage insurance claims practice.
We consider our family of clients partners in this process.
Accordingly, Garfinkel Law invests substantial resources, money and attorney time in order to ensure the best possible outcome against the corporate giants that seek to benefit, while you and your community suffer.