Articles Posted in Insurance

Hurricane Michael caused severe damage to condominiums and HOA communities in the Florida panhandle, and in the aftermath of the storm many of the area’s community associations will be filing property damage claims with their insurers.  Here are some tips that will help the boards of directors and property managers for these associations to make the process as smooth as possible:

 

Document the Damage

One of first steps for associations to take will be to document the damage.  Taking photos from a number of different angles and perspectives is a good start, and video recordings documenting all of the damage throughout the affected areas are also very helpful.  This should be done prior to any repairs or clean up, including the installation of tarps to prevent further water intrusion.

hurricane-damage-300x200For roof damage, associations should be very cautious and avoid walking on roofs that have been impacted.  Some insurers may attempt to demonstrate that the damage was exacerbated by individuals walking on the roof to take photos/videos and install tarps.  If the damage is not visible from the roof access door of condominium buildings, consider using a drone to take aerial videos.

 

Prevent any Further Damage

The only repairs that should be made immediately following all of the photo and video documentation should be those that are necessary to prevent further damage and ensure safety.  This includes emergency repairs such as covering damaged roofs and broken windows with tarps.

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Michael-Hyman-srhl-lawThe firm’s Michael L. Hyman authored an article that appeared as the “Board of Contributors” guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “$7.5M Verdict Against Condo Association Should Have Been Prevented,” discusses the multi-million dollar verdict in a case involving a hot tub accident at a St. Petersburg, Florida, condominium and the potential ramifications that can result when any defects in community amenities are not properly addressed.  Michael’s article reads:

In 2008, Ehab Mina was about to step into the hot tub at the Boca Ciega Resort & Marina Condominium when he became startled to see that it was partially drained. The problem in the hot tub caused the 44-year-old to slip, and he badly injured his right shoulder and spine.

Mina required multiple surgeries, and he was ultimately forced to sell his boat-building business as a result of his injuries. He filed suit against the association and its property management company, Condos by Sirata Inc., alleging that the hot tub should have had a posted warning and adequate lighting in the evening hours.

bciega-300x206The attorneys for the condominium association responded by arguing that the half-empty hot tub was an obvious condition, but the jury found the association and its management company to be jointly liable.  It awarded a $7.56 million verdict to Mina.

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susanodess-srhl-224x300Michael-Clark-Gort-photo-200x300Article authored by:  B. Michael Clark, Jr. and Susan C. Odess

After Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida last year, many property owners were surprised at how unfamiliar they were with the property insurance claim process — mainly because of Florida’s remarkable hurricane-free streak. However, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season marked the end of that winning stretch, catapulting many Floridians who experienced property damage into insurance claim purgatory.

By now, community associations, business owners and homeowners who filed a claim relating to Hurricane Irma damage should have heard back from their insurer as to whether their claim was denied, determined to be under the deductible or fully covered. For many policyholders, their insurer’s coverage decision came back as a disappointing slap in the face, leaving them as discouraged as they felt after receiving the pricey estimates for their repair costs.

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susanodess-srhl-224x300The firm’s Susan C. Odess authored an article that appeared as a “My View” guest column in the Business Monday weekly supplement of today’s Miami Herald.  The article, which is titled “Clients Must Use Insurer’s Contractor or Face $10k Cap,” focuses on a new rule from Citizen’s Property Insurance that limits claim payouts to $10,000 unleMHerald2015-300x72ss policyholders agree to use the insurer’s preselected contractors.  The article reads:

Beginning in February, Citizens will be able to force commercial and residential property policyholders who file claims for all non-weather water losses to use the company’s preapproved contractor or agree to limit their total payout to $10,000. This arbitrary figure is artificially low, as many claims involving water losses often cost much more to repair.

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We hope that you and your loved ones are safe after the storm with little to no damage to your property.  Our thoughts remain with those whose homes and loved ones were impacted by Hurricane Irma.  As local, state and federal officials throughout Florida respond to those who have been impacted—whether it is because of loss of power, property damage or fallen powerlines or trees—we want to make sure we do our part to help our commuIrma-1024x535nity as well.

If you have had a chance to drive around, you will notice that there are a number of trees that have fallen on homes, causing serious damage to their roofs, windows, and even their foundation. If you’ve been able to tune in to the news to see coverage of the storm’s aftermath you have seen that many areas experienced massive flooding. Due to the property damage that some Floridians are currently experiencing, we want to make sure that everyone is well-informed on the proper way to handle any insurance claims that may arise. Keep in mind that it is important that condominium, cooperative Continue reading

Hurricane Irma is now a category five storm that is predicted to impact the state of Florida by late this week.  As all community associations prepare their properties for the storm, they should also take specific measures to prepare for any insurance claims that may arise.  Below is an excerpt from an article by firm partner Laura M. Manning-Hudson on these pre-storm insurance recommendations that was posted in this blog earlier this year:

At the start of every hurricane season, association board members or property management should photograph and/or video all of the main public areas of the condominium property.  These images could become vitally important in the event that a storm strikes and claims are filed.   Associations should also take the time to store copies of their wind, flood and property insurance policies in waterproof cases in a secure location.  If possible, digital copies should also be stored in several computers and devices.

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With hurricane season now underway, Florida condominium associations should take the time to ensure that they and their owners are prepared for a storm.  In addition to ensuring that hurricane shutters are operational and all of the necessary supplies are on hand, associations should communicate with owners about insurance and liability under state law.

Florida law requires associations to maintain insurance for all portions of the condominium property as originally installed in accordance with the original plans and specifications, as well as alterations or additions made to the condominium property.  Personal property, including floor, wall and ceiling coverings (i.e., paint, wallpaper, wood flooring), electrical fixtures, appliances, water heaters, water filters, built-in cabinets and countertops, and window treatments including curtains, drapes, blinds, and similar window treatment components, located within a unit or that unit’s limited common elements, and which serve only that unit, are not covered by the association’s insurance policies.  Unit owners are responsible for maintaining their own insurance coverage for these items.

strm-300x240At the start of every hurricane season, association board members or property management should photograph and/or video all of the main public areas of the condominium property.  These images could become vitally important in the event that a storm strikes and claims are filed.   Associations should also take the time to store copies of their wind, flood and property insurance policies in waterproof cases in a secure location.  If possible, digital copies should also be stored in several computers and devices.

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Michael-Clark-Gort-photo-thumb-120x180-45140Firm partner B. Michael Clark, Jr. authored a guest column that appeared as a “Board of Contributors” feature in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which was titled “Court Upholds Concurrent Cause Doctrine in Win for Property Policyholders,” focused on the positive ramifications for Florida commercial and residential insurance policyholders of the state Supreme Court’s recent decision in the case of Sebo v. American Home Assurance.  Michael’s article reads:

The recent Supreme Court of Florida decision in Sebo v. American Home Assurance rejecting the “efficient proximate cause doctrine” in favor of the “concurrent cause doctrine” for property insurance claims represents a significant win for residential and commercial policyholders.

The state’s highest court has determined that the appropriate theory of recovery for claims in which two or more perils contribute to a loss but at least one of the perils is excluded from coverage is the concurrent cause doctrine. Under the rejected efficient proximate cause theory, when multiple perils cause a loss, it is the efficient cause — the one that sets the other in motion — to which the loss is attributed.

For the insurance industry, the efficient proximate cause doctrine has always been preferred. If the carriers are able to demonstrate that the efficient cause behind a loss is excluded from coverage under the policy, then the entire claim may be denied.

dbr-logo-thumb-400x76-51605-300x57Sebo makes the concurrent cause doctrine the legal standard to be applied for property insurance claims in Florida. Now insurers must cover a loss even if the covered peril is the secondary cause of the loss, which was concurrent with but not the primary or efficient cause.

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Insurance coverage and claims are often among the most confusing and troublesome matters that developers and community associations must address, and large claims involving serious property damage from any type of disaster will typically require the guidance and expertise of attorneys and public adjusters.

Florida law stipulates that associations must maintain insurance for all portions of the property as originally installed or renovated. However, the statutes exclude certain portions of the units from the insurance coverage which an association must carry, and they do not provide that associations’ insurance coverage must extend to the personal property of individual residents. As such, unit owners are responsible for maintaining their own insurance to cover damages to the floors, walls, ceilings, electrical fixtures, appliances, cabinets, counters and window treatments in their units.

In the event of a loss that will require the filing of an insurance claim, your first responsibility is to mitigate the damages and do everything in your power to stop it from getting worse. Leaks should be plugged and blown out windows should be boarded, but by no means should an association make any permanent repairs prior to an insurance claim being properly filed. Insurance policies will typically require that the carrier have the opportunity to have its representatives investigate the loss prior to any permanent repairs by the policyholder, as repairs made prior to the investigation may interfere with such right.

The claims process will typically begin with the filing of a formal incident report to the insurance carrier. Since these reports are often filed immediately following the loss, it is important that they be updated and corrected with new information on the extent of the loss as it becomes available during the claims process. Should a dispute arise, the carrier may point to a lack of notice of the extent of the damages, so it is vital for the report to be kept as accurate and up-to-date as possible. Additionally, association counsel and a qualified adjuster should assist associations in the filing of this report.

In addition to having the insurance carrier’s adjuster inspect the damage, it is usually also wise for the property to have its own independent expert conduct a thorough inspection. water.jpg This is especially true if there are any questions as to the cause and origin of the damage. Insurance carriers may not provide all of the information to their insureds from the reports that they receive from their own claims investigators, so it is typically very helpful for the property to have its own detailed analysis of the nature and extent of the loss.

The next phase typically involves the hiring of a mitigation contractor to conduct the necessary repairs. It is imperative for properties to use reputable contractors that are properly licensed and insured. Also, in order to help avoid any potential problems with the contractors after their work has commenced, it is advisable to have the property’s attorney review the contract prior to finalizing it.

Some of these contracts call for an assignment of benefits to enable the contractor to speak on behalf of the property to the carrier and receive the payments directly from the insurer. This may not be in the best interests of the insured. Bear in mind that the insurance company is not tasked with policing the quality of the repairs, so it is incumbent on the association to have its own experts conduct ongoing inspections to certify the work.

There are many aspects of the claims process that typically require the guidance of qualified professionals for associations and developers. Insurance carriers may require recorded statements, proof of loss statements, and examinations under oath to evaluate the claim and determine whether the extent of the loss is being exaggerated by the insured.

In addition, in determining the amount of coverage that will be provided for the claim, insurers may use different figures based on the replacement cost value, actual cash value and actual cost of construction. Experienced insurance attorneys and independent adjusters can help associations to force the carriers to properly categorize the costs for the necessary repairs and maximize the recovery.

After growing up in the insurance industry as the daughter of one of Florida’s premier policyholder advocates, my exposure to insurance practices began at a remarkably young age. As a dually licensed public adjuster and attorney, I focus on insurance matters for our firm’s community association clients as well as property and business owners. Through my unique upbringing in conjunction with my years of practice, I have learned that virtually all insureds would amass a great benefit by working with a loss consultant and experienced legal counsel when handling an insurance claim.

Two of my recent cases illustrate the benefits for associations and property owners in working with an insurance attorney and public adjuster for their claims. The first case involved a water loss in the common areas of the Cutler Cay Homeowners Association in southeast Miami-Dade. Upon discovering the loss, the association filed its insurance claim with its insurance company without first consulting a public adjuster or an attorney that specializes in insurance litigation. As a result, the insurance company denied the association’s claim and concluded that the loss was not covered under the association’s insurance policy.

After unsuccessfully dealing with its insurance company for more than two years, the association contacted our firm to enlist our services. Our firm closely worked with a public adjuster to determine the full extent of the insured’s damage. Within several months of filing a lawsuit on the association’s behalf, we were able to effectively demonstrate the clear coverage for the association’s loss and recover over $269,000 for the association.

water.jpgThe second case involved two separate water-related losses at a single-family home in Broward County. The homeowner immediately retained a public adjuster to assist in the filing and presentation of her claims. In both claims, the homeowner received payment from her insurance company, although the insurance company’s payments were insufficient to restore the home to its pre-loss condition. When negotiations between the public adjuster and the insurance company reached a stalemate, the insured contacted our firm. In less than four months, we were able to recover approximately five times the amount of the insurance company’s prior payments.

These cases highlight the importance for associations and homeowners of working with experienced insurance attorneys and public adjusters for their insurance claims. Ideally, it is best to retain the services of these professionals prior to the filing of a claim, as their guidance and experience can play a pivotal role in how the claim is handled by the insurance company and ultimately whether the claim is adequately paid. However, it is never too late to enlist these insurance professionals, even if the insurance company denied or issued payment for your claim, as we can often re-open the claim to secure additional funds.