If you have been offered less money than you need to repair the tornado damages to your home and property, or if your tornado insurance claim has been denied or delayed.
This blog entry uses an FAQ format to provide information that is crucial for dealing with insurance companies and tornado damage claims, including:
Why should you hire a tornado damage attorney?
What tornado damage does a homeowner policy cover?
Is one claim adjuster the same as another?
What are the most common complaints about tornado insurance-claim reimbursement?
What is “bad faith” on the part of an insurance company?
What is “depreciation” and how does it affect tornado insurance claims?
What tornado damage is not covered by a homeowner policy?
What does “credible evidence” of damage mean?
What should I do if my insurance company wants to underpay me for damages?
What are insurance-company pricing guidelines used for?
What is the importance of insurance coverage limits?
Are damage exclusions always enforceable?
How is a tornado insurance claim denied by an anti-concurrent causation clause?
What can you do about denied tornado insurance claims?
How much does it cost to dispute a denied tornado insurance claim?
1. Why should you hire a tornado damage attorney?
Quite simply, you might end up with less compensation than you deserve if you try to appeal the denial or underpayment of a tornado damage insurance claim without the help of a tornado insurance claim attorney. This is for at least three reasons:
First, remember that no matter how congenial one might sound, insurance company “claim adjusters” are not there to protect your interests. In fact, quite the opposite is true. They are motivated by their companies to cut you the smallest check they can legally get away with. If you are not an attorney yourself, and consequently unfamiliar with the laws surrounding tornado insurance claims, you are working at a colossal disadvantage.
Second, there is a human tendency to think that others in the world would feel and act the same way you do in a given situation. And so you say to yourself, “I would never try to connive a person out of something that is rightfully hers, especially after she has suffered a disaster.” And so you imagine that the seemingly-congenial claim adjuster would not do so either. History has proven time and time again: this is a very bad assumption.
Third, if your house and property are destroyed and/or damaged, and your life is in an upheaval, you might be tempted to think that you should just “move on” and “not argue” with the insurance company. This is self-defeating—and another major reason why you should not try to handle a tornado insurance claim without a tornado insurance claim lawyer.
Always keep in mind: You are not requesting charity. You have been faithfully paying premiums to be insured against tornado damage to your home. You deserve to be fully compensated for your covered losses.
2. What tornado damage does a homeowner policy cover?
Exactly what losses and damages your insurance policy covers are explained in the paperwork you received subsequent to your purchasing the policy. Before arguing with a claim adjuster, you need to review your policy and be conversant with this information.
Also, take a hard look at any sales brochures given to you when you were being sold the policy. These might have content that demonstrates the insurance company promised more benefits than they are offering now.
3. Is one claim adjuster the same as another?
In a word, no. It is not unusual for one adjuster to reject coverage for a certain kind of damage, and for a different adjuster from the same company to okay it. And this is not just an academic point, because, after a tornado, you might have to deal with more than one adjuster.
Such differences among adjusters from the same company can happen because insurance contracts are notorious for lots of vague wording and legalese. And adjusters—unsurprisingly—read their policies with a prejudice favorable to their employer—and against you.
Refamiliarizing yourself with your insurance policy allows you to challenge any inconsistencies between what it contains vs. what the claim adjuster says—before the process goes any further and becomes more difficult to alter or reverse.
4. What are the most common complaints about tornado insurance-claim reimbursement?
The most common complaints are about delays, which generally are for three reasons:
a. The insurance company might not have enough claim adjusters. So after a tornado, it takes them a long time to send you one.
b. There might be more than one adjuster, and one might okay something while another does not (see 3).
c. Because of (a) and (b), you have missing and/or conflicting information about what is covered by your insurance policy.
Other common complaints involve markedly or unfairly low offers for repairs or settlements. These add insult to injury, particularly if this is an insurance company to which you have been faithfully paying premiums for decades, on time, and without ever questioning each increase.
Victims refer to these complaints as “the second nightmare” after a destructive tornado. They add to the psychological trauma you have already experienced. They set you up for “just wanting to settle and get it over with.” And they are another reason you should hire a tornado damage attorney — and not go it alone.
5. What is “bad faith” on the part of an insurance company?
Any attempt on the part of an insurance company to renege on its promises is called “bad faith.” An insurance company demonstrates a bad faith claim when it either refuses to pay your legitimate claim or prolongs the process by which the claim gets settled. Insurance companies do this to weaken your resolve, especially when you are psychologically battered from dealing with a natural disaster (see source).
Insurance companies are also acting in bad faith when they distort contract language to get around paying a claim, do not reveal exclusions and limitations when they sell you a policy, or if they demand unreasonable evidence for proof of loss.
6. What is “depreciation” and how does it affect tornado insurance claims?
Depreciation refers to the reality that an insurance company, for example, is going to pay less for a destroyed ten-year-old appliance than for a brand new one. This makes sense. However, depreciation is subjective. One claim adjuster might decide differently from another about which items to depreciate, and by how much. So it is up to you to fight for reasonable and fair compensation.
Also, remember that there are two kinds of replacement policies.
An actual cash-value ACV policy only obligates the insurance company to pay what the destroyed item was worth, which might not be much in the case of a ten-year-old appliance.
A replacement-cost value RCV policy does not consider depreciation. Instead, your insurance company must pay what it costs to replace a used item with a similar new one. If you have already been paid something by the insurance company for the used item, and the amount was inadequate to buy a new one, the company is legally obligated to pay the difference—but you must have the receipt to prove it.
7. What tornado damage is not covered by a homeowner policy?
The most common and infamous excuse for denying a tornado insurance claim is the phrase, “You are not covered for that.” But never just acquiesce to this. The frequent case of floodwaters is a good example.
Floodwaters rise from the bottom up. The overflow from a pond, lake, or storm surge are good examples; and most homeowner insurance policies do not cover these kinds of events. Instead, they typically require a separate policy (aka flood insurance).
But water damage that comes from wind-driven rain certainly is covered by your homeowner policy. Ditto for waters that invade your house through tornado-caused openings in the roof, doors, or windows—although your deductible might be higher for these than for other insured damages.
So you need to be doubly sure that you and the claim adjuster are talking about the same kind of water damage.
(N.B. In addition to “liability” and “collision” coverage, if you have “comprehensive insurance” against physical damage to your car that is not accident-caused, then water damage is covered, no matter from where the water emanates.)
8. What does “credible evidence” of damage mean?
An insurance company might ask for “credible evidence of damage.” So be sure to retain any paperwork that will help you document the loss. These could be estimates, receipts, local news articles about the tornado, etc. You might be asked for before-and-after photos of the tornado damage.
Make sure that your “after-photos” shows the damage from different angles. Insurers usually want you to make temporary repairs as soon as you can, such as putting up tarps or nailing plywood over shattered windows. This is to prevent further damage, which makes economic sense for both you and the insurance company. But do not let the temporary repairs mask the severity of the original damage. Take snapshots before you make temporary repairs!
And about those “before-photos.” Requiring these can be a bogus issue designed to elongate the settlement process, adding stress to your life when you are already under immense emotional and financial pressure, softening you up for a lowball settlement. However, bogus issues tend to evaporate in the presence of an insurance-claim attorney—someone who is on your side.
9. What should I do if my insurance company wants to underpay me for damages?
Remember that insurance company claim-adjusters are motivated by their employers to underpay you for your tornado damage. You can bet any estimate you are initially given is going to be less than what you need to recover your losses. So if you disagree with it, be sure to ask for a second opinion.
You can do so by appealing directly to your insurance company. Ask them to re-examine the claim. But make sure that you make your request within the timeframe of appeals. And you will need to collect and provide facts and documents that support your contentions.
10. What are insurance-company pricing guidelines used for?
Insurance companies use pricing guidelines to estimate what it will cost to repair or replace your property after a storm. But the cost of labor and materials typically soars after a tornado wreaks havoc across an entire city, town, or neighborhood. So the pricing guidelines do not reflect reality.
Nonetheless, up to your policy limits, an insurance company is legally obligated to pay the actual cost of your insured damages, not just what was calculated before the tornado ever touched down.
For example, if the pricing guidelines for a new roof is $250 per square foot, but the market price has skyrocketed to $350 due to supply-and-demand, retain your receipts and demand the difference, as well as any amount the insurance company “held back” due to ACV rules.
Bear in mind that it is not fair—and could be regarded as bad faith (see 5)—for an insurance company to delay settling with you in the hope that local prices will recede, and they can get by more cheaply.
11. What is the importance of insurance coverage limits?
It is crucial to purchase coverage that is sufficient to restore your property or replace your home completely. Insurance companies will only pay up to the maximum amount specified in your policy. The difference between the maximum and what it will actually cost you to repair or replace your property is solely yours to pay.
12. Are damage exclusions always enforceable?
Yes, with one caveat. Let us say you live in a tornado-prone area and you purchased a homeowner policy that has an exclusion for “high wind” damage—and the insurance agent hid this in small print and/or failed to mention it. In such as case, this might be deemed an “unenforceable exclusion.” But you will need a tornado-insurance attorney to know.
13. How is a tornado insurance claim denied by an anti-concurrent causation clause?
More often than not, insurance companies will try to limit their payouts after a tornado, and the tool by which they do so is known as an anti-concurrent causation clause, which is buried in the fine print of most homeowners' policies.
An anti-concurrent causation clause specifies that the insurance company will not pay for a covered event that occurs simultaneously with a noncovered one. For example, the company will deny compensation for wind damage (which is covered) because it happened at the same time as something that is not covered (e.g. floodwaters).
If this sounds absurdly unfair, that is why exclusion clauses are illegal in some states. If your state is not one of them, there are ways to disprove or negotiate your exposure to an exclusion clause. So it is important that you deal with your insurance company as strategically as possible, which is yet another reason you would do well to retain a tornado-insurance attorney.
14. What can you do about denied tornado insurance claims?
A large part of the job for claim adjusters is saving money for the insurance companies that pay their salaries, and so they are professionally adept at getting you to say things that reduce the credibility of your claim. Thus, if you have filed a claim for damages and it has been denied, simply calling your insurance company and trying to change the adjuster’s mind is wrought with danger. You need the services of a tornado-insurance lawyer.
Galindo Law has experienced attorneys who focus exclusively on assisting people with denied tornado damage issues. They will defend the integrity of your damage claim and negotiate aggressively with insurance companies to achieve the settlement you need and deserve.
15. How much does it cost to dispute a denied tornado insurance claim?
Galindo Law does not charge any upfront or out-of-pocket fees. We are only paid a percentage of the settlement we are able to secure for you. So by working with Galindo Law, you incur zero financial risk.
It bears repeating: You are not asking for charity. You have paid to be insured. You deserve to be adequately compensated.
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