Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon has encouraged insurers to pay evacuation expenses for those affected by Hurricane Ida. Last month, the storm battered the state, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing dozens of people. Thousands of Louisiana residents chose to drive away from…
Navigating Before and After Natural Disasters
Louisiana is one of the states most prone to natural disasters. Residents regularly endure hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and even the occasional winter storm. Major weather events can range from stressful annoyances to devastating tragedies that change lives forever. In this article, we’ll discuss the types of Louisiana natural disasters, ways to protect yourself before and after a storm, how to navigate the complicated world of insurance, and when it’s time to seek advice from an experienced Louisiana storm damage lawyer.
Types of Louisiana Natural Disasters
Tornadoes, which usually form during thunderstorms, are most commonly associated with the Midwest, but Louisiana has seen thousands since tracking began over 70 years ago. The last decade has seen more than ever before in the state, reaching upwards of 100 storms in some years.
Tornadoes can be more devastating than hurricanes in some ways – they can reach wind speeds of over 300 mph, level homes and buildings in seconds, and strike without warning. Whereas people with hurricanes usually have days of warning to prepare and evacuate, tornadoes often only give people minutes. Tornadoes can be more than two miles wide and can destroy entire towns and turn cars into missiles. Homeowners’ insurance policies usually include wind damage, but that can be a small comfort when you lose your home or everything inside it to these violent storms.
Despite being a warm southern state, Louisiana does see the occasional winter storm. The latest came in February 2021, when a storm that formed in Texas with record-low temperatures left millions of residents without power and water for more than a week; six people froze to death. President Biden’s disaster declaration allowed Louisiana to receive federal assistance. These icy events may be rare but are expected to remain a threat in the future.
Most insurance policies cover ice and snow damage. Still, some exclude specific types of damage (such as from hail), so it’s always a good idea to consult a Louisiana lawyer knowledgeable in disaster insurance law if you’re having trouble collecting a weather-related insurance claim.
Although Louisiana experiences a wide variety of extreme weather, the biggest threat by far is hurricanes. Hurricane season runs from June 1-November 30, and the number of storms increases every year. This year is expected to be no different. The latest predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) call for 15-21 named storms, with 7-10 of those expected to turn into hurricanes, and 3-5 could become major hurricanes. The outer rain bands from hurricanes can even create tornadoes, multiplying the danger.
Hurricanes are measured by wind speed on the five-category Saffir-Simpson scale:
- Cat 1: 74 mph or more
- Cat 2: 96 mph or more
- Cat 3: 111 mph or more (major)
- Cat 4: 130 mph or more (major)
- Cat 5: 157 or more (major)
Living with the chance of a major hurricane is par for the course in Louisiana. The state has had more than its fair share of severe hurricanes, most notably in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. The Category 5 storm put 80 percent of New Orleans underwater, cost the state $160 billion, and killed more than 1,800 people. Those who survived remained trapped by the floodwaters for weeks.
The most dangerous part of Katrina, and all hurricanes, is the storm surge. Storm surge occurs when hurricanes or other very intense storms create an unusually high increase in sea level, sometimes more than 20 feet above normal. It causes severe flooding that can extend hundreds of miles over land and remain for long periods of time. Storm surge caused half of all hurricane-related deaths from 1963 through 2012.
How to Prepare For a Hurricane
It is never too early to start preparing for a hurricane. One of the essential things to do is to create an emergency supplies kit, which should include the following items:
- Emergency phone numbers
- Written directions to your nearest storm shelter with alternative routes in case roads are impassable
- Pet supplies
- Enough prescription medication for several days
- At least three days of food and water
- Flashlights and extra batteries, a radio, regular and portable cell phone chargers
- Plenty of face masks in case a shelter requires them
- A full tank of gas in all vehicles and car emergency kits
- Important documents and personal care items
- Identification and cash
It’s also important to prep your home or business before a storm. Clear your property of any objects that could fly around, cover windows and doors with plywood or storm shutters, prep all appliances to be without power, and fill a bathtub with clean water. Following a hurricane, your property insurance claim could be denied if your insurer finds that you didn’t take the time to protect your home or business properly.
Take pictures and videos of your business, home and possessions before a storm hits. This is a vital step that will make insurance claims much easier if anything is damaged.
And, of course, learn about your homeowners’ insurance policy inside and out. Suppose there is additional coverage to your policy that you think you might need. In that case, it likely requires at least a 30-day waiting period before going into effect, so research and purchase accordingly well ahead of storm season.
If authorities issue mandatory evacuation orders, follow them. If you cannot evacuate, keep a TV or battery-powered radio on for updates, stay inside, and keep away from windows.
What to Do After a Hurricane
After the storm has passed, seek medical attention before doing anything else if anyone is seriously injured. Stay well clear of fallen power lines and standing water, as it can be full of dangerous bacteria. If you evacuated, do not return to your home until local authorities say it is safe to do so. And, remember to never drive through flooded areas as you will not know how deep they are.
Once it’s safe to do so, you must inspect your home or business for any damage caused by the hurricane. If a structure seems like it could collapse, don’t go inside. Whether you can enter the property or not, it’s important to take photos and videos of any storm damage. You will be able to compare these with the photos and videos taken before the storm hit. Also, create a comprehensive list of structural damage and each item lost or damaged. Having this evidence will make it much harder for your insurer to deny your property insurance claim.
You should also do everything you can to safely protect your home or business from further damage, like sealing broken windows or putting tarps over a hole in the roof. You may be eligible for reimbursement for any repairs you make yourself, so keep any receipts for necessary supplies.
Finally, contact your insurer as soon as possible. Many other homeowners will be doing the same, and backlogged property insurance claims can take months to get through, with no guarantee yours will be approved.
Navigating Storm Insurance
The last thing you want to worry about after the stress of a severe storm is insurance, but unfortunately, it’s crucial to stay on top of your policy if your home or business is damaged. Having more coverage than you think you need, knowing its limits and proving the extent of any damage is paramount.
Many insurers act in “bad faith” and purposely undercompensate the clients they are supposed to protect. So, this is why after an extreme weather event, it’s also beneficial to consult a Louisiana attorney who has experience winning storm damage insurance claims.
Hurricane insurance claims can be very complicated. The most important thing to know about “hurricane insurance” is that while homeowners’ and business policies cover wind damage and sometimes a combination of wind and water damage, damage caused by flooding is NOT part of your coverage. Storm surge, failures of levees, or other water damaging your property would not be covered unless you have flood insurance.
Flood coverage must be purchased separately and is essential in a hurricane-prone state like Louisiana. This is still true even if you live far inland, as storm surge can travel hundreds of miles. Before Katrina, few people – including many insurers – understood the necessity of this coverage, and thousands paid the price.
Flood insurance is offered by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and standard coverage includes $250,000 for your home and $100,000 for your possessions, each with a $1,000 deductible. The same goes for your business, which offers $500,000 for the building and $250,000 for its contents.
These amounts can often be inadequate after a serious storm, so it’s a good idea to purchase extra coverage if you can. Many national private insurers offer it.
But of course, you cannot simply make a claim and walk away with a check for $250,000. After major storms, processing claims can take months, leaving you without a path forward or even a safe place to live. The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) offers grants to people who have been displaced by storms to pay for temporary housing, loss of property, medical expenses, and more. Still, it takes a long time to respond to everyone who needs help.
Unfortunately, insurance adjusters and contractors know how frustrating this can be and may take advantage of storm victims at a vulnerable time. Beware of fraudulent or unlicensed workers who may call or come to your home to offer you discounted home repairs or “quick and easy” routes to a claim settlement. Always do your research, and check the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors before hiring anyone.
What to Do If Your Storm Insurance Claim is Denied
There are often legitimate reasons why your claim for storm damage may be denied, but just as often, their reasoning is designed to take advantage of you. Insurance companies make money by collecting premiums and paying out as little as possible. They accomplish this by burying important stipulations in lengthy insurance contracts.
If you receive a property insurance claim offer that you believe is less than you deserve, you don’t have to accept it. You have been paying into a policy that is supposed to cover damage to your home or business fully, and you deserve to get the full amount.
But insurance claims are complicated under the best of circumstances, and you will probably be stressed, exhausted, and possibly mourning the loss of your home or family members when meeting with agents after a storm. That is why it is crucial to hire a Louisiana lawyer experienced in storm damage and well-versed in the ins and outs of Louisiana’s disaster insurance regulations. Having a professional attorney on your side will put the odds back in your favor while you focus on moving forward.
The New Orleans law firm of Herman Herman & Katz has a team of lawyers experienced in disaster insurance law. We are available to help Louisiana homeowners and businesses recover the necessary insurance proceeds to rebuild and move on after a storm. For more information or a free case evaluation, contact us online or call us at 844-943-7627.