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LEGAL MATTERS: Post-Hurricane Sandy Insurance + Repairs

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

 

If you've got damage to your property in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, make sure you take the right steps to get the most coverage for your repairs. Photo: Christine Rhodes

Dealing with insurers and contractors in the aftermath of a natural disaster can be as difficult, if not more difficult, than the actual hurricane itself.  There are some things you can do, however, to protect yourself and your property.

First steps

Before a natural disaster, it is wise to take pictures of and compile a list of everything you own to submit to your insurer as proof of ownership and also to make sure you have enough coverage. Having said that, in the aftermath of a storm, take pictures of the damage BEFORE you start cleaning up.  If there is any question regarding the extent of the damage or whether an item was damaged in the storm these pictures may make the difference between a timely payment and a protracted argument with your insurance company.

Don’t make any permanent repairs until your insurer has evaluated the damage however, make sure you make enough of a repair to prevent further damage to the property. You do have a duty to mitigate damages if you can do it safely.

Get those home insurance policies out – the declaration page – or dec sheet for short – will tell you about your coverage. You would be surprised how many people have never read through this part of their insurance policy. For instance, you may find that you have coverage for living expenses incurred if your home is not habitable.

Contact your insurer and/or agent immediately. Most insurers will have set up emergency information hotlines.

Keep receipts for EVERYTHING. If you need to make temporary repairs to make your home habitable while you wait for the permanent fix, your insurer will reimburse you for those early repairs if you have coverage for that damage.

Flood insurance

By now, most of us know that water damage not caused by wind-driven rain is not covered by homeowner’s insurance. For example, rain damage to your walls caused by rain driven under the eaves is covered while water damage to the bottom of your walls caused by high water levels is not.

If you do not have flood coverage or you do not have enough coverage, you may still be able to access federal low-interest loans or grants as many did when we experienced the historic floods several years back.

Repairs

When you do make repairs, make sure you check with the Contractor’s Registration Board online.  Certain contractors – such as electricians -- must carry licenses, while other contractors – such as painters -- need not. However, ALL contractors in Rhode Island are required to register with the Board and to carry insurance.

The other reason to check with the Board is that the Board will list prior complaints against the contractor and whether the contractor actually does have insurance. You would be surprised how many contractors state they have insurance but let it lapse after they turn over the insurance information to the Board.

After you receive an estimate, make sure the contractor puts it in writing and signs it. Depending on your insurer, you may have to have the estimate approved. If, during the work, the estimate changes due to scope-of-work changes or hidden problems, make sure you let your insurer know and make sure the change is put in writing and signed again.

If, despite all this, you have problems with coverage or a contractor, make sure you contact an attorney to protect your rights.

The foregoing is offered for informational purposes only and is not legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.

Susan G. Pegden is a litigation associate with the Law Firm of Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins in Providence.  She is admitted to practice in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and is a member of the American Association of Justice (AAJ), the Board of Governors of the Rhode Island Association of Justice (RIAJ) and the Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association (RIWBA).

Sean P. Feeney is a partner with the Law Firm of Hamel, Waxler, Allen & Collins. He is admitted to practice in Rhode Island, Illinois and Wisconsin. Mr. Feeney is a former special counsel to the City of Providence, military prosecutor with the United States Marine Corps and Special Assistant United States Attorney for the Central District of California.

 

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