Call Us Today


Subscribe to our newsletter

Facebook pageFollow us in TwitterLinkedIn ProfileView Author's Justia ProfileGoogle Plus ProfileSubscribe to this blog's RSS feed



What are the Insurance Companies Doing with your Money – State Farm is Under Criminal Investigation While Citizens Spends Lavishly on Themselves Even as They Pleaded Poverty and Raised Rates for Florida Homeowners

insurance_fraud_photo_three.jpgWe often hear how about all the problems facing insurance companies despite the fact that Florida went a record 6 straight years without getting hit by a hurricane.

Yet despite that amazing streak of good fortune for all of Florida, insurance companies are still raking in huge profits while increasing the premiums we Floridians have to pay on insurance.

What are the insurance companies doing with those premiums? According to the Miami Herald, high ranking officials at Citizens enjoyed lavish dinners and outings at our expense.

How lavish? Citizens executives spent nearly $9,200, including two nights in a boutique hotel and a $234.91 dinner for three at an award-winning French restaurant. Other instances of financial abuse included traveling executives often staying in luxury hotels costing as much as $600 a night even when less expensive accommodations were available nearby. Many Citizens executives dined at fancy restaurants and repeatedly spent more than $50 per person on such fare as rack of venison, sea bass and dungeness crab.

If those financial abuses were not enough, State Farm is under even greater scrutiny. State Farm Insurance, the nation’s largest home insurer, is currently addressing an ongoing criminal investigation related to how it handled potentially tens of thousands of hurricane claims.

State Farm’s internal documents reveal a clear corporate policy of intentionally denying consumer claims for roof damage originating from wind storms. The systematic denial of those types of claims may have quietly saved State Farm close to $1 billion.

State Farm documents reveal an attempt by State Farm managers to hide the company’s policy of non-payment from state insurance regulators.

Our storm damage attorneys are not surprised at the insurance companies conduct. If you have sustained property damage then contact us today to discuss your rights.

Insurance Companies are Seeing a Spike in Claims being filed as a result of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Isaac in South Florida

Tropical-Storm-Isaac-on-familiar-course-TL258KB8-x-large.jpgTropical Storm Isaac left its imprint all over South Florida. Tropical Storm Isaac produced flash flooding, down power lines, and overall extensive property damage throughout South Florida.

The next step for all South Florida homeowners who sustained property damage as a direct result of Tropical Storm Isaac is to assess the extent of the damages and determine what needs to be done to repair the damage.

It should be emphasized that all damage should be photographed, and any repairs made should be properly documented. If you purchased supplies at the local hardware store, make sure to keep the receipt. If you hired the contractor to perform certain remedial measures, make sure you keep the invoices documenting the nature, cost and scope of work.

After you have assessed your damages, and performed any remedial repairs to prevent the damage from getting worse, it may be time to contact your insurance company. Our storm damage attorneys are prepared to assist you with the claims handling process as well in the evaluation process.

Filing an insurance claim is often times not an easy process. But it is best to be prepared prior to filing the claim in order to help ensure a smooth claims process. And the best preparation is to fully understand the nature of the loss, and have it properly documented.

With that said, insurance companies in South Florida are expecting a rise in claims. Citizens expects approximately 5,000 to 6,000 claims to be filed over the next few weeks.

As you prepare for your claim, please understand that time could be a significant factor working against you. In order to properly file a claim with your insurance company the claim needs to be timely filed. If you fail to timely file a claim, then your claim is forever barred.

Some claims require that they be filed “immediately” with the insurance company. And failure to file an “immediate” claim may jeopardize the claim. Flood claims in particular have special rules that need to be properly handled. Please contact our office today if you are in doubt regarding the claims process, or if you simply have questions regarding the potential claim.

The Aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaac in South Florida – What Do You Do If Your Property Was Damaged or Flooded? What About Your Business?

tropical_storm_issac,_generic_medium.jpgTens of thousands of homes and businesses remained without power Monday across South Florida as the remnants of Tropical Storm Isaac continue to wreak havoc for South Florida residents and businesses alike.

Heavy rains, and hail, have caused wide spread flooding and property damage. Strong wind gusts has caused trees to fall which has resulted in extensive property damage throughout South Florida.

Our storm damage attorneys stand prepared to assist you during this time of heavy rain and chaos. But now is also the time to ensure that you remain pro-active to protect yourself, your property and your business.

This significant weather event may have caused damage to your home, your property, or even your business. It is of critical importance that your damage be properly documented.

Start by taking photographs of the damages and properly inventorying your damage. Damage to your personal contents is of particular importance since it could be both time consuming and emotional to document.

Also, please take the necessary efforts to stop any further damage with your property as a result of the wind and rain coming from Tropical Storm Isaac. Keep all receipts and paperwork associated with such efforts and any emergency repairs you may need to take.

It will also be critical to determine whether or not your claim is a result of flooding, or wind. This distinction is critical to understand and in assessing your rights and applicable coverage available to you as a result of the damage sustained thanks to Tropical Storm Isaac.

What about your business? Well, if you have a business interruption policy then you may have coverage available to you as a result of Miami-Dade County Mayor’s decision to issue an evacuation order for people living in mobile home parks, unsafe structures, and areas prone to flooding. He also closed the Port of Miami.

As a result of this Order, businesses have been ordered to close until further notice. Such an order is commonplace when a natural disaster threatens, like Tropical Storm Isaac.

If your business purchased standard business income coverage then it is likely that your policy provides coverage for any loss of income caused by the Mayor’s decision to issue an evacuation order and close the Port of Miami.

Our firm stands ready to assist with your property damage needs and to battle with your insurance company to ensure proper compensation for your insurance claim. Whether you are a resident with damaged property, or a business owner who has sustained an interruption to your business as a result of Tropical Storm Isaac, call us today for a free consultation.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal Issues Another Friendly Opinion for Florida Policy Holders as they Continue to Pump Out Rulings Involving Late Notice Hurricane Wilma Claims

flag-gavel.jpgThe Fourth District Court of Appeal handles cases from Palm Beach and Broward county. In addition to Miami-Dade County, those were two of the hardest hit counties when Hurricane Wilma struck South Florida back in 2005.

It should come as no surprise that many insurance companies are still battling with consumers over Hurricane Wilma claims, especially in those hardest hit counties in South Florida. Indeed, our firm continues to be involved in many late notice Hurricane Wilma claims with State Farm and other insurance companies.

At this juncture, many trial court judges are simply granting summary judgments in favor of the insurance company, and against the policy holder/insured. One of the reasons for doing so was the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling in Kroener v. FIGA, 63 So.3d 914 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011). As we previously discussed, the Kroener ruling determined that “as a matter of law” notice to the insurer of a claim of loss more than two years and two months after the loss occurred was not prompt notice, and that the untimely reporting of the loss violated the insurance policy and was sufficient to bar the claim.

Since Kroener was decided, however, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has helped to clarify that ruling and pushed Kroener back to the land of irrelevant.

The latest ruling was handed down on August 1, 2012, by the Fourth District Court of appeal in Leban v. State Farm, 4D10-3833 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012). In Leban, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of State Farm, reasoning that the Lebans failed to comply with post-loss conditions under the policy, specifically by failing to give timely notice. However, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. In other words, the policy holder/insured, will have an opportunity to have their day in court and have a jury decide the issues raised in this case.

In so ruling, the Fourth District Court of Appeal further receded from the Kroener analysis by quoting from Bankers Ins. Co. v. Macias, 475 So.2d 1216, 1218 (Fla. 1985) that an insured’s failure to comply with the insurance policy notice provisions pertaining to the timing of when to “immediately” report an insurance claim and an insured’s failure to provide “immediate” notice in violation of the insurance policy notice provision is not fatal to coverage – “if the insured breaches the notice provision, prejudice to the insurer will be presumed, but may be rebutted by a showing that the insurer has not been prejudiced by the lack of notice.”

In the Leban case, the Fourth District Court of Appeal explained that the record contained questions of fact as to whether or not State Farm had in fact been prejudiced by the insured’s late notice. While State Farm submitted an affidavit attesting that it could not determine that the damage was caused by Hurricane Wilma, the Lebans submitted two reports from individuals who concluded that Hurricane Wilma had caused the damage. That was sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact and defeat State Farm’s motion for summary judgment.

The Lebans will now have their day in court.

Insurance Claims for Property Contents – Content Inventories

Lady-House-Fire.jpgWhat is contents or personal property coverage is a common question that we are often asked when handling insurance claims. The simple answer is that contents coverage (or Coverage C (for State Farm it is often Coverage D)) is the portion of your home insurance policy that covers the cost of replacing your possessions, or home’s contents, in the event that they are destroyed in a covered peril (wind, fire, hail, lightening, theft, etc).

The more complex answer is that this is a form of available insurance coverage available to those that have sustained a significant loss, but it is also the part of the claim that is often very emotional. For instance, the homeowner that saw their home blown away during a hurricane is calling this claim the “everything I owned is gone” claim.

Often times these items that are lost are very personal. How do measure the value of your graduation frame? Or the treasured blanket given to you by your grandmother? Or your home computer with all the photos of your new born child? All of these items have strong sentimental value, and are the type of items that one moves from home to another when re-locating homes.

But when a significant loss occurs the property contents are often the items that are the most difficult to remember, and quantify. How often do you actually count how many bed sheets you own?

Given the emotional aspect of this claim, many insurance companies are insisting on detailed “inventory forms” as soon as possible to help them understand the extent of content damage they may have to pay under coverage C of the policy.

These content “inventory forms” are often a source of much dispute and confusion. It is not uncommon to prepare one, but then remember months later that you had omitted some very important items. Consequently, it is imperative that the “inventory form” list be properly, and completely prepared as soon as possible. But as you can see by the photo accompanying this post, preparing that inventory could be a daunting task when confronted with life altering adversity.

Therefore, how realistic is it to prepare this list in the face of a total and catastrophic loss? In such scenarios many folks are trying to simply survive day to day, and are not focused on prepare a list detailing all the treasured items that they have accumulated over the years that they just lost.

One of the best ways to handle this daunting task is to hire a professional to help handle this task. Hiring a contents inventory company may be money well spent. Public adjusters are also a wonderful resource that can help assist with the claims process in general. Our firm can also assist you with respect to the needs associated with the claims process and the specific issues of properly detailing your insurance claim.

The best time to prepare for this is actually now. Before a catastrophic event. Prepare an inventory of items you own today, and then after the storm you can assess the nature and full scope of your loss. This may certainly help in getting full and prompt contents loss payment under Coverage C of your policy after a properly completed “inventory form” has been submitted.

Florida’s Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Prohibiting Public Adjusters From Aiding Policy Holders During the First 48 Hours After a Catastrophe

cat2_brokenwindows.jpgIn 2004 and 2005, Florida saw two of the most costly hurricanes seasons to date. Florida alone had four major hurricanes making landfall in a span of approximately 45 days in 2004, followed by another active hurricane season in 2005.

Thereafter, many home owners submitted insurance claims to their insurance companies. Studies revealed that homeowners that hired public adjusters were generally paid more during the claims process than those who did not.

Consequently, the insurance lobby ran to Tallahassee in an effort to slow down the steady growth of many small business in the State of Florida engaged in public adjusting. Indeed, the Florida legislature passed a law back in 2008 that prevented public adjusters from contacting potential customers within the first 48 hours after a serious weather event. Insurance companies, the primary supporters of the legislation, alleged that adjusters were increasing the cost of premiums by pressuring vulnerable homeowners to file claims against their insurers despite the fact that the homeowners had been paying for insurance for all those years. After all, isn’t insurance supposed to be there to help one cope with a natural disaster like a hurricane?

At any rate, the first 48 hours after a significant catastrophe could be critical to properly preserving and documenting an insurance claim. For example, a policyholder may not properly preserve evidence or find all damages. It is without question that the first two days are also very crucial to a claims investigation by a public adjuster because a policyholder may not stay at a severely damaged property and move to another location, which could lead to that policy holder not receiving the necessary information regarding the hiring of their own public adjuster and that policy holder may otherwise fail to properly document and preserve the claim during that crucial period.

As we discussed in our blog back on December 31, 2010, one adjuster, backed by countless supporters, decided to take on the state by questioning the legality of the provision through the legal system. On July 5th, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the subject provision that attempted to curtail the business practices of so many small businesses in Florida and to help so many policy holders in Florida correctly file insurance claims against their insurance companies.

According to the highest court in the state, the provision violated the Constitution of the United States because it barred commercial speech, which is protected under the 1st amendment. The government had the burden of showing that the regulation directly advanced an important interest and is no more restrictive of speech than necessary. In short, the government failed to satisfy the latter part of the test by “ban[ning] all types of communication during that [48-hour] period.”

This is particularly true and highlighted by the fact that there is simply no reason for a public adjuster to contact a policy holder but to engage in communication about the commercial transaction of public adjusting and the claims process in general. Such a ban would on such communication would be tantamount to banning free commercial speech and ending the competitiveness and livelihood of so many small businesses in Florida while depriving many Floridians of their right to engage in a commercial transaction with a public adjuster.

Alberto? Beryl? Chris? Debby? Our Firm Stands Ready to Help Miami Homeowners if a Named Storm Strikes South Florida

So far this year there have been four named storms, including one hurricane and three tropical storms. Any of these storms are strong enough to do significant damage. However, none of them reached South Florida.

Tropical depressions are storms with winds of up to 38 mph and are identified only by numbers; tropical storms are given names and have winds form 39 to 73 mph and hurricanes have winds above 74 mph.
Storms so far in 2012 have included:
-Tropical Storm Alberto: Reached speeds of 60 mph and one of the earliest named storms in recent history having formed before the official start of hurricane season.
-Tropical Storm Beryl: Speeds of 70 mph. Beryl made landfall in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. It was the strongest landfall in the United States for any pre-season Atlantic tropical cyclone on record.
-Hurricane Chris: The first hurricane of the season reaching strength of 75 mph.
-Tropical Storm Debby: Reached speeds of 60 mph and dumped a ton of rain on Tampa and Jacksonville.

Our Miami hurricane damage lawyers urge you to take the South Florida hurricane season seriously and properly prepare for the safety of you and your family. Our staff will be available around the clock in the event of a serious storm and can assist you in filing claims or handling disputes with your insurance carrier.

Storms are named in order of the alphabet each year, except for the letters q, u, x, y, and z, which are omitted. Whenever a storm causes serious damage, like Wilma or Katrina, the name is retired and replaced.

Names for 2012 are:

  • Alberto
  • Beryl
  • Chris
  • Debby
  • Ernesto
  • Florence
  • Gordon
  • Helene
  • Isaac
  • Joyce
  • Kirk
  • Leslie
  • Michael
  • Nadine
  • Oscar
  • Patty
  • Rafael
  • Sandy
  • Tony
  • Valerie
  • William

Understanding Your Insurance Coverage – Lessons Learned from Tropical Storm Debby Regarding Windstorm and Flood Coverage and How it Can Impact Your Insurance Claim for Property Damage

flood.jpgTropical Storm Debby left a rain soaked imprint in Tampa and Jacksonville. The slow moving storm caused extensive flood damage throughout the state of Florida.

Indeed, Tropical Storm Debby raked the Tampa Bay area with high winds and heavy rain Monday in a rain soaked drenching that caused widespread flooding, and clobbered Jacksonville.

The interesting part of Tropical Storm Debby is that many homeowners are now in the process of submitting insurance claims to their insurance companies. However, many are shocked to learn that their homeowners’ policy does not cover flood damage.

We handled flood claims back in 1999 and 2000 here in Miami when Hurricane Irene and the no-name storm flooded South Florida with heavy rains and massive flooding. It was frustrating to see how many home owners simply did not have adequate insurance coverage to cover the extensive flood damage caused by those storms in such hard hit areas like Sweetwater and Southwest Miami-Dade County.

The issue of flood insurance can leave South Florida homeowner’s with huge headaches. Homes determined to be in a flood plain are required to have flood insurance in addition to a regular homeowner’s insurance policy. But yet many still don’t have flood insurance today.

This is particularly troublesome when you consider that insurance companies providing windstorm coverage will typically attempt to blame storm damage on flooding, thereby relieving themselves of the obligation to pay. This was common after Hurricane Katrina, when insurance companies decided they would pay for missing roofs, but not homes destroyed by the resulting water damage.

Consequently, a Miami insurance claims lawyer should always be called to handle significant damage claims. Accepting partial claims and signing waivers or other paperwork are just two ways a homeowner can quickly find themselves in trouble when dealing with an insurance company.

Additionally, you should check today to make sure that you have adequate insurance coverage. Contact your insurance agent to review your scope of insurance coverages. You should also ensure that you have purchased flood insurance too. Flood insurance is relatively inexpensive. With flood insurance, you can fill the “gap” of coverage that the insurance companies will no doubt create in an effort to avoid paying certain claims should a major storm strike South Florida.

Victory for Florida Homeowners as a Florida Appellate Court Permits Florida Policy Holders To Have Their Day In Court to Rebut the Presumption of Prejudice in Cases Involving Late Reporting to the Insurance Company

insurance claims alvarez and barbara.gifWe wrote a blog entry back on December 30, 2011, discussing whether or not your insurance claim is barred if you fail to comply with all of the conditions set forth in your insurance policy prior to filing a lawsuit.

One of the most contentious issues involving insurance claims is whether or not the insured actually provided “immediate” notice of the loss to the insurance company. This issue has been playing out throughout the State of Florida with respect to continued litigation stemming from Hurricane Wilma, and other named storms. The insurance companies have aggressively fought these “late notice” claims – both in the court room and in the state house.

In the state house, the insurance companies were able to convince our lawmakers to reduce the statute of limitations from 5 years to 3 years. In other words, Floridians who have their property damaged due to a windstorm or hurricane now have 3 years in which to file their claim with the insurance company as opposed to the 5 years they traditionally had to make a claim.

As for the courts, insurance companies have sought the entry of summary judgment to deprive homeowners of their day in court and in front of a jury. One appellate court even went so far to as conclude that “as a matter of law, notice to the insurer of a claim of loss more than two years and two months after the loss occurred was not prompt notice; the untimely reporting of the loss violated the insurance policy and was sufficient to bar the claim.” Kroener v. FIGA, 63 So.3d 914 (4th DCA 2011).

The troublesome part of the Kroener ruling is that it ignored long standing Florida case law that addresses the issue of late notice. Put a different way, Florida law provides that when an insured fails to give timely notice of a loss to its insurer then the insurer is presumed to have been prejudiced. But the insured can rebut that presumption of prejudice by showing that the insurer was not, in fact, prejudiced by the late notice. Bankers Ins. Co. v. Macias, 475 So.2d 1216 (Fla. 1985). And to repeat, the Kroener case was completely silent on the issue of the rebuttable presumption and it failed to address it in any way whatsoever.

However, a more recent decision from the Fourth District Court of Appeals is more consistent with long standing Florida law regarding the rebuttable presumption in late notice claims. In Stark v. State Farm Insurance Company, No. 4D10-4945 (Fla. 4th DCA June 20, 2012), the appellate court reversed the summary judgment entered in the insurance company’s favor.
In Stark, the homeowner had a policy of insurance with State Farm that required that the homeowner provide “immediate” notice. Hurricane Wilma caused damage to Mr. and Mrs. Stark’s home. After Hurricane Wilma, Mr. and Mrs. Stark then hired a company to perform the repairs to their home. They also submitted a claim through FEMA. Those efforts were performed because Mr. and Mrs. Stark believed that the total value of their claim would not exceed their deductible with State Farm.

However, over the years the damage continued to get worse and got progressively worse. They consequently reported a claim with State Farm over three years after Hurricane Wilma.

Not surprisingly, State Farm fought the claim on grounds that the claim was not filed “immediately” as required by the insurance policy. The trial court actually granted State Farm’s motion for summary judgment. But the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed that ruling.

In so doing, the appellate court held that the affidavits on file created a question of fact as to whether the insureds could overcome any presumption of prejudice to State Farm. This is a significant victory for homeowners throughout Florida.

Are Insurance Companies Only Insuring You As Long As Nothing Happens? Insurers Go Missing After Catastrophic Losses

hurricane damage to homes.jpgInsurance companies often advertise how easy it is to become an insurance company’s customer. But they seldom, if ever, advertise how difficult it is to get an insurance company to pay for a claim, especially if the claim is after a catastrophic loss such as say a Hurricane.

Insurance companies have significantly and methodically decreased their financial responsibility for weather catastrophes like hurricanes and floods in recent years. Indeed, and after an extraordinary year last year for natural disasters, many insurance companies took steps to leave weather challenged states like Florida.

For instance, Allstate informed many of its North Carolina policy holders that would not renew homeowner policies that were not bundled with auto policies. Alfa Mutual Group announced that it would not renew 73,000 Alabama policy holders after tornadoes caused $11 billion dollars of property damage in Alabama last year.

Yet Florida is probably in the worst shape of any state in the country as it is the midst of an on going insurance crises in light of the fact that insurers have been dropping coverage since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. As a result, Florida’s premiums average $1,460 per home. That trails only the state of Texas for the average cost of insurance premiums. As a result, the state backed Citiznes Insurance Company has had to step in to cover some 1.5 million property via its publicly funded insurance company as insurers drop more and more homes each and every year. State Farm, for example, stopped writing new homeowner policies in Florida back in 2007.

Today, insurance companies are also offering less insurance coverage for more money. In other words, many policy holders are paying more money for less coverage. While rates have been increasing dramatically, coverages have been hallowed out.

With hurricane season upon us, it is important to check the financial strength of your property insurer. The reason for that is because a major storm could wipe out more than your home – it could wipe out an insurance company too. Not only should you check the financial strength of your insurance company, but you should also check, and understand, the scope of coverages you have purchased.
If you are in doubt regarding your legal rights under the insurance policy, or you are in need of assistance with your insurance claim, please feel free to call us today to discuss your claim.

Visit Our Other Blogs





Contact Us

No Fields Found.

Recent Entries

Florida Business Litigation Attorney
rated by Super Lawyers