The late Senator George Aiken was once asked what the U.S. should do about the long and seemingly hopeless battle in Vietnam.
The Senator unflinchingly responded, “Declare victory and get out.” Back here in the state of sunshine, storms and alligators, you might think that philosophy is back when it comes to Hurricane Irma claims. Insurers proudly declare that they have successfully closed over 90% of all Irma claims. Hailing “victory” against the relentless enemy of contractual obligation, insurers boast that tens of thousands of claims are closed. Yet somehow blue tarps still speckle the landscape and my lobby is filled with clients still seeking help. Here’s what the insurers don’t want you to know about “closed claims”:
“Closing” a Claim Doesn’t Mean That the Claim Was Properly Paid
“Closing” a claim does not mean “game over” for the property owner but simply means that the insurance company has unilaterally decided that’s all it wants to pay – which in many cases can be nothing. Claim closures can and should be challenged if they’re wrong.
“Closing” a Claim Doesn’t Mean That You Can’t Still Do Something About It
Just because your insurance company has declared “victory and got out” doesn’t mean that the war is over. There are numerous options and weapons that a policyholder can use to fight back – even if the claim has been closed, including:
1. Appraisal – If your insurance company hasn’t paid what’s owed, most policies provide an informal option to resolve your claims dispute through an appraisal process. Appraisal is usually fast, final and most lawyers handle appraisals on a contingency basis of between 10% – 20% of the recovery. So there no legal fees to you unless you win.
2. Litigation – Sometimes, baseball diplomacy just works –– especially against an unyielding insurer. Florida has stiff penalties against insurers who get sued over wrongful denials/reductions – namely, the insurance company will likely have to pay your attorney a hefty attorney’s fee on top of what they owe you if the insurance company owes any money on the claim. A skilled insurance attorney will typically never charge for the consult and may take the case for no out of pocket fees to you (waiting to pursue fees against the insurance company).
Remember, that even if your insurance company has declared victory and “case closed” — for us insurance lawyers at war in the land of crocodiles and catastrophe claims, the battle rages on.
Russel Lazega is an attorney and author of two of Florida’s most widely distributed legal textbooks on Florida Insurance Law. He also represents storm victims and consumers at war with their insurance companies and is based in North Miami, Dania Beach, Orlando and Tampa, Florida. Questions? Contact: Russ@fladvocates.com.