Experts say that 2021 will be the seventh consecutive year of above-average hurricanes, so it’s more important than ever to be ready for the Atlantic hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts a 60% chance of overactivity, and Louisiana is right in the middle of the Gulf Coast’s danger zone. From 2005’s historically devastating Hurricane Katrina to Hurricane Laura’s destruction just last year, adequate preparation is essential to Louisiana residents.
There are several steps you should take to ensure the safety of your home and family. New Orleans’ “Nola Ready” website details how to secure your house, how to evacuate if need be and what to have in your hurricane preparedness kit.
But perhaps the most important and often overlooked aspect of storm readiness is understanding and updating your homeowner’s insurance. Typical policies do not include flood coverage, and flooding is usually the most dangerous part of a hurricane as it leads to long-lasting storm surge. While boarded-up windows and supply kits will get you through a hurricane, insurance is what matters when the storm is over, and it’s time to pick up the pieces.
Do You Have Enough Insurance to Cover Hurricane Damage?
Don’t wait until the storm is days away to address your insurance concerns. If you plan to buy separate flood insurance (a must in Louisiana), FEMA’s flood insurance provider requires a 30-day waiting period after purchase before coverage kicks in. Ninety percent of all natural disasters include some type of flooding.
Nineteen coastal states, including Louisiana, allow for separate hurricane and windstorm deductibles. A hurricane deductible only applies to damage from a hurricane, while windstorm coverage is there for any type of wind (such as a tropical storm). The cost of this deductible, unlike traditional dollar amounts, is usually based on a percentage of the structural value of your home between one and five percent. The higher your area is at risk for hurricanes, the more the deductible will be.
While most homeowners’ insurance covers wind damage, yours may not include enough to repair your home after a hurricane if you don’t have hurricane or windstorm deductibles. Many policies cover just 50 to 70 percent of your home’s structural value. It’s smart to plan for exactly how much it might cost to repair or even rebuild your home well ahead of time, so you know if you need to purchase additional coverage.
You should also put together a detailed inventory of everything inside your home – your possessions and important documents. This can easily be done with your smartphone, which can record videos and pictures to make the claims process much smoother and give you an educated estimate of their value.
Renter’s insurance policies also do not cover flooding or severe wind damage, so if you rent in Louisiana, you will need to find additional coverage for your personal belongings, which are not covered by your landlord’s policy.
Another crucial part of your policy is additional living expenses (ALE). This covers any costs involved with living somewhere else because your home is uninhabitable after a storm. Hotels, meals and other necessities will be covered up to 20 percent of your total insurance coverage.
And always keep updated copies of your policy and your agent’s contact information close at hand so you can get started on your claim as soon as possible.
Steps to Take After a Storm
Return to your home only when it is safe to do so. While assessing the damage and forming a plan for your insurance claim, be on the lookout for dangerous scammers that may offer you home repairs and encourage you to bypass your insurance carrier. They will likely request payment upfront, then do poor work or no work at all.
Take photos and/or videos of all the damage so your insurer can compare them to the ones taken before the hurricane. This includes structural damage or damaged/lost possessions. Have copies of a complete list of these possessions for yourself and your insurer, as you will need it to substantiate your loss.
Make every effort to protect your home from further risk by doing things like sealing broken windows or putting a tarp over a hole in your roof. If you do not make an effort to prevent further damage, your claim may be denied. If you have to purchase supplies for any repairs you do yourself, keep the receipts.
You must notify your insurance company as soon as possible to submit your claim. You will want to be at the front of the line as many other families are likely submitting claims as well. Keep a written record of all correspondence with your insurer and repair estimates from contractors you trust to do the repairs after the settlement has been reached.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help with Insurance Claims
If you go into your claims meeting with hesitation, your insurance agent will likely try to offer you less compensation than you’re entitled to. Hold your ground, and don’t be afraid to negotiate. Come armed with a list of your consumer rights from Louisiana’s insurance regulator, and don’t let successful claims go unrepaired for too long. Delayed compensation is the largest insurance-related complaint in the state.
If your insurer will not adjust your benefit and you believe you deserve more, it’s time to contact a licensed public adjuster or experienced attorney. Herman, Herman & Katz has long been a statewide leader in successfully representing homeowners and business owners in hurricane and natural disaster claims after the devastation of a hurricane. Our team has the intricate knowledge for this litigation. Call us at 844-943-7626 or visit us online to begin rebuilding your life.
Jed Cain is a partner with Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC. He has dedicated his career to representing injured folks and their families.