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Many Insurance Discounts are Discontinued

andrew roof.jpgFor the past few years insurance companies have given many property owners discounts on their premiums for installing tile roofs.

However, some insurers have stopped giving the discounts because of Florida’s complicated new form. For many this means that their insurance premiums may go up few hundred dollars a year.

The new form used by inspectors is based on a 2002 state study that did not examine tile roofs. As a result, the form doesn’t mention tile roofs, which are one of the two most common roofs in South Florida. The roofs are especially popular in upscale communities throughout the area.

Some inspectors are going the extra mile and added commentary that the property meets the latest building codes and should qualify for a discount. Nonetheless, some insurers are taking a hardline approach and strictly following the form.

According to research, metal roofs are considered the strongest in hurricane force winds. Concrete tile roofs are second. Although relatively strong, a 2008 study showed that tile roofs led to about 30 percent higher losses for one insurer because they are more expensive to repair and replace. A FEMA studied showed, however, that tile roofs do a better job of keeping water out of homes. Water damage is more expensive to fix than a roof alone.

We’ve all heard about the recent property insurance law changes and the end/cutback of these discounts is a result of that new law. For example, some inspectors are erring on the side of caution when it comes to the grey areas on the form because of a new law that makes it a crime to give unwarranted discounts. It seems like the form needs to be clarified so that policyholders are not cheated out of discounts.
Consider Your Options. Contact Us Today.

Before opening our law firm in 2006, our attorneys worked for some of the state’s, and nation’s, largest law firms, and worked representing the insurance companies for years. Our attorneys are now uniquely positioned to use that experience to assist individuals and businesses alike throughout Florida with their insurance claims. As a result, our attorneys are well versed in the impact insurance has on businesses, condominiums, and individuals alike. Our insurance litigation practice group is prepared to tackle your insurance claim.

Given our extensive experience litigating for, and against, insurance companies, our insurance litigation practice group is prepared to provide aggressive, efficient and effective representation on a broad spectrum of insurance claims in Florida for local, national, and international clients. We are prepared to advocate insurance claims at the pre-suit stage, trial, appellate and arbitration levels.

If you are facing a dispute over an insurance claim in Florida, contact Alvarez & Barbara, LLP, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Call us today toll free at 1-866-518-2913 or at 305-263-7700.

About the AuthorGabriel de las Salas is an attorney with the law firm of Alvarez & Barbara, LLP. His practice is focused on general civil and commercial litigation, including personal injury, insurance claims and real estate disputes. Mr. de las Salas received his B.A., cum laude, from the University of Florida, and his J.D., from Stetson University College of Law.

Summary of Property Insurance Reform in Florida

law.jpgGovernor Rick Scott recently signed into law a piece of legislation that changes many aspects of property damage claims, and that also makes it easier for insurance companies to raise your property insurance rates in the years to come.

Below is a summary of Senate Bill 408 that was signed into law by Florida’s Governor recently.

Time Limits for Claims and Statute of Limitations

The bill places time limits for bringing a hurricane or sinkhole claim and also creates a statute of limitations for bringing a breach of contract property insurance action in court. A claim, supplemental claim, or reopened windstorm or hurricane claim must be given to the insurer within 3 years after the hurricane first makes landfall or the windstorm causes covered damage. An initial, supplemental or reopened sinkhole claim must be given to the insurer within 2 years after the policyholder knew or reasonably should have known about the sinkhole loss. The bill also enacts a 5 year statute of limitations for bringing an action for the breach of a property insurance contract that runs from the date of loss.

Public Adjusters

The bill limits public adjuster fees related to reopened or supplemental claims to a maximum of 20 percent of the reopened or supplemental claim payment. The bill also limits public adjuster fees to 20 percent of an insurance claim payment made by the insurer more than one year after events that are the subject of a declaration of a state of emergency by the governor. A public adjuster fee related to a policy issued by Citizens Property Insurance Corporation may not exceed 10 percent of the additional amount actually paid in excess of the amount originally offered by Citizens on the claim.

Public adjusters are prohibited from making deceptive or misleading advertisements or solicitations. Written solicitations must include a disclaimer notifying the consumer that a solicitation is being made. A public adjuster contract related to a property and casualty insurance claim must contain the full name of the public adjuster and public adjusting firm, the business address, license number, and other specified information.

Public adjusters must give prompt notice of a property loss claim to the insurer and include with the notice the public adjuster’s employment contract. The public adjuster must also ensure that the insurer has access to inspect the property, can interview the insured directly about the loss and claim, and allow the insurer to obtain information necessary to investigate and respond to the claim. The insurance company’s adjuster or other persons acting on the insurer’s behalf must provide at least 48 hours notice before scheduling an inspection of the property or a meeting with the claimant. The insurer also must allow the public adjuster to be present during the insurer’s in person meetings with the insured.

The bill requires licensed contractors to be licensed as a public adjuster in order to adjust a claim on behalf of the insured.
Replacement Cost Coverage

The bill modifies how insurers must pay dwelling or personal property losses on a replacement cost basis. For a dwelling loss, the insurer must initially pay the actual cash value, minus the deductible. Subsequently the insurer must pay any amounts necessary to perform repairs as work is performed. If a total loss of a dwelling occurs, the insurer must pay the entire replacement cost coverage without holdback of depreciation in value pursuant to the Valued Policy Law. For personal property losses insured on a replacement cost basis, the insurer must offer two claim payment options. The first option requires the insurer to pay the replacement cost without holdback of depreciation, regardless of whether the insured replaces the property. The second option allows the insurer to limit the initial payment to the actual cash value of the personal property to be replaced. To receive payment from the insurer for the full replacement value of the personal property, the insured must provide a receipt for the replaced property to the insurer. A policy authorizing the insurer to require replacement of personal property prior to paying the full replacement cost must provide the policyholder with a premium credit or discount and the insurer must provide clear notice of the payment process before the policy is bound.

Sinkhole and Catastrophic Ground Cover Collapse Insurance

The bill creates a detailed definition of “structural damage” for purposes of determining whether a sinkhole loss has occurred. The definition specifies five distinct types of damage that constitute structural damage. Each type of damage is tied to standards contained in the Florida Building Code or used in the construction industry. Accordingly, in order for the policyholder to obtain policy benefits for sinkhole loss, the insured structure must sustain structural damage as defined by the bill that is caused by sinkhole activity.

Investigation of Sinkhole Claims – The bill creates a substantially new process for an insurer’s investigation of a sinkhole claim. The process requires the insurer to determine whether: (1) the building has incurred structural damage that (2) has been caused by sinkhole activity. Coverage for sinkhole loss is not available if structural damage is not present or sinkhole activity is not the cause of structural damage. The new process is as follows:

· Initial Inspection & Structural Damage Determination: Upon receipt of a claim for sinkhole loss, the insurer must inspect the policyholder’s premises to determine if there has been structural damage which may be the result of sinkhole activity. This inspection will often require the insurer to retain a professional engineer to evaluate whether the insured building has incurred structural damage as defined by statute.

· Sinkhole Testing Initiated by the Insurer: The insurer is required to engage a professional engineer or professional geologist to conduct sinkhole testing pursuant to s. 627.7072, F.S., if the insurer confirms that structural damage exists and is either unable to identify a valid cause of the structural damage or discovers that the structural damage is consistent with sinkhole loss. If coverage is excluded under the policy even if sinkhole loss is confirmed, then the insurer is not required to conduct sinkhole testing.

· Notice to the Policyholder: The bill maintains the requirement that the insurer must provide written notice to the policyholder detailing what the insurer has determined to be the cause of damage (if the determination has been made) and a statement of the circumstances under which the insurer must conduct sinkhole testing. The policyholder must also be notified of his or her right to demand sinkhole testing and the circumstances under which the policyholder may incur costs associated with testing.

· Authorization to Deny Sinkhole Claim: Insurers may continue to deny the claim upon a determination that there is no sinkhole loss.

· Policyholder Demand for Sinkhole Testing: The bill specifies that the policyholder may demand sinkhole testing in writing within 60 days after receiving a claim denial if the insurer denies the claim without performing sinkhole testing and coverage would be available if a sinkhole loss is confirmed (i.e. the claim denial was not issued due to policy conditions or exclusions of coverage and instead was based the failure of the loss to meet the definition of sinkhole loss). However, if the policyholder requests such testing, it must pay the insurer 50 percent of the sinkhole testing costs up to $2,500. If the requested testing confirms a sinkhole loss the insurer must reimburse the testing costs to the policyholder.

Payment of Sinkhole Claims – The insurer continues to be required to pay to stabilize the land and building and repair the foundation upon the verification of a sinkhole loss. Payment shall be made to conduct such repairs in accordance with the recommendations of the professional engineer retained by the insurer under s. 627.707(2), F.S. The bill also clarifies that the insurer is required to give notice to the policyholder regarding payment of the claim.

The bill revises the statutory authorization specifying that the insurer may limit payment to the actual cash value of the sinkhole loss not including below-ground repair techniques until the policyholder enters into a contract for the performance of building stabilization repairs. The bill requires the contract for below-ground repairs to be made in accordance with the recommendations set forth in the insurer’s sinkhole report issued pursuant to s. 627.7073, F.S., and entered into within 90 days after the policyholder receives notice that the insurer has confirmed coverage for sinkhole loss. The time period is tolled if either party invokes neutral evaluation. Stabilization and all other repairs to the structure and contents must be completed within 12 months after the policyholder enters into the contract for repairs unless the insurer and policyholder mutually agree otherwise, the claim is in litigation, or the claim is in neutral evaluation, appraisal or mediation.

The bill specifies that if a covered building suffers a sinkhole loss or catastrophic ground cover collapse, the insured must repair such damage in accordance with the insurer’s professional engineer’s recommended repairs. However, if repairs cannot be completed within policy limits, the insurer has the option to either pay to complete the recommended repairs or tender policy limits.

Neutral Evaluation of Disputed Sinkhole Claims – The bill specifies that neutral evaluation must determine causation (whether a sinkhole loss has occurred and, if so, whether the observed damage was caused by sinkhole activity); all methods of stabilization and repair both above and below ground; the costs for stabilization and all repairs; and all information needed to determine whether a sinkhole loss has been verified and render an opinion on all matters at dispute in the neutral evaluation.

The neutral evaluator must be provided with information necessary to perform his or her duties. The bill requires that the neutral evaluator must be allowed reasonable access to the interior and exterior of the insured structures to be evaluated or for which a claim has been made. The policyholder must provide the neutral evaluator with all reports initiated on behalf of the policyholder that confirm a sinkhole loss or dispute the insurer’s sinkhole testing report. Such materials must be provided prior to the neutral evaluator’s physical inspection of the property. The bill revises the procedures and time frames for conducting the neutral evaluation. The parties are provided 14 business days to agree to a neutral evaluator. If an agreement cannot be reached, the Department of Financial Services (DFS) shall appoint a certified neutral evaluator. Each party may disqualify two neutral evaluators without cause; a reduction from 3 disqualifications under current law. The neutral evaluator has 14 business days after the referral to notify the parties of the date, time and place of the neutral evaluation conference; an increase from 5 business days in current law. The neutral evaluator must make a reasonable effort to hold the conference within 90 days after the DFS has received the request for neutral evaluation. Failure to conduct the conference within 90 days does not invalidate either party’s right to neutral evaluation. Current law requires that the neutral evaluation conference be held within 45 days.

The neutral evaluator’s report must be provided to the parties within 14 days after the completion of the neutral evaluation conference. A court proceeding related to the neutral evaluation must be stayed until 5 days after the filing of the neutral evaluator’s report with the court. If the neutral evaluator is not qualified to determine a disputed issue, he or she may enlist the assistance of another certified neutral evaluator, a professional engineer or professional geologist who is not a certified neutral evaluator, or a licensed general contractor to provide an opinion on that issue. Such person may be disqualified for cause in the same fashion as a neutral evaluator. The neutral evaluator may also request that the entity that performed the sinkhole investigation perform additional and reasonable testing that the neutral evaluator deems necessary. If the insurer agrees to comply with the neutral evaluator’s report, payments shall be made in accordance with the terms of the applicable insurance policy and s. 627.707(5), F.S. The bill also makes the following changes related to the neutral evaluation process:

· Specifies that neutral evaluation does not invalidate an insurance policy’s appraisal clause.

· Allows the parties to disqualify a neutral evaluator for cause based on specified familial or professional relationships.

· Requires admission of the neutral evaluator’s oral testimony and full report in any action, litigation or proceeding related to the claim.

· Specifies that the actions of the insurer in neutral evaluation are not a confession of judgment or an admission of liability.

· Deems neutral evaluators agents of the Department of Financial Services and grants them immunity from suit pursuant to s. 44.107, F.S.

Consider Your Options. Contact Us Today.

Before opening our law firm in 2006, our attorneys worked for some of the state’s, and nation’s, largest law firms, and worked representing the insurance companies for years. Our attorneys are now uniquely positioned to use that experience to assist individuals and businesses alike throughout Florida with their insurance claims. As a result, our attorneys are well versed in the impact insurance has on businesses, condominiums, and individuals alike. Our insurance litigation practice group is prepared to tackle your insurance claim.

Given our extensive experience litigating for, and against, insurance companies, our insurance litigation practice group is prepared to provide aggressive, efficient and effective representation on a broad spectrum of insurance claims in Florida for local, national, and international clients. We are prepared to advocate insurance claims at the pre-suit stage, trial, appellate and arbitration levels.

If you are facing a dispute over an insurance claim in Florida, contact Alvarez & Barbara, LLP, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Call us today toll free at 1-866-518-2913 or at 305-263-7700.

Florida’s Governor Signs Into Law a Bill that Aids Property Insurers and Permits Insurance Companies to Raise Insurance Rates BASENAME

cott-signing.jpgThis legislative session we’ve been telling you about the bill that would change Florida’s property insurance landscape. The proposed bill was pushed through by lawmakers despite the fact that Florida has not been hit by a hurricane since 2005. Well, that bill has now become a law.

Essentially, the new law was created so it could strengthen property insurance companies that cover damages from hurricanes, fires, and other losses. It is also designed to curb a recent surge in sinkhole claims which insurers believe are purely fraudulent. The sponsor of the new law stated it would “promote a competitive market with solvent companies that our policyholders can rely on.”

However, the law does have its critics. Detractors of the law state the law would lead to higher premiums for all property owners. Additionally, the law also imposes new restrictions on public adjusters, and sinkhole claims, as well.

Specifically, this law also allows annual rate increases of up to 15 percent to cover higher reinsurance costs. This provides insurance companies with yet another excuse to cash in while making consumers vulnerable to serial premium hikes — without fixing the underlying problems plaguing Florida’s property insurance system.

Florida’s property insurance system has been an almost annual legislative headache since shortly after Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992 — the Category 5 storm killed caused about $16 billion in insured damage. Indeed, former Gov. Charlie Crist last year vetoed a bill that was similar except for the sinkhole provisions. However, back in 2007 legislators tried to protect consumers from crippling rate increases, thinking that was the best way to go. But the law signed by Gov. Scott did away with many of those consumer friendly protections and enhanced the insurance companies to ability to fight against insurance claims.

The law signed by Gov. Scott will also allow insurance companies to justify a new round of rate hikes for all of the hard working Floridians. This is so because the higher reinsurance rates will be an invitation to let insurance companies raise rates.

The new law also tightens restrictions on sinkhole claims, which the insurance companies say are costing them $500 million annually, and allows insurers to hold back part of a claims settlement until repairs are completed.

But that is not all that this law does. The law caps public adjuster compensation to 20 percent of the claim payment (10 percent for Citizens claims). The law also requires public adjusters to provide additional disclosure statements and notices.

These changes come as no surprise as the insurance lobby was able to convince our elected representatives that public adjusters spearhead the filing of allegedly fraudulent claims such as sinkhole claims. However, any move that restricts public adjusters is a restriction on the average Floridian because these individuals represent people who are having difficulties with their insurance claims. Their role is vital to a fair claims system as they have the knowledge and experience to navigate the complex claims process.

Insurers have become stronger. Accordingly, the public has become weaker. This fact highlights the reason why its important to hire a firm with the experience necessary to compete against Goliath insurance companies. At Alvarez & Barbara, LLP, we have this experience and the proven track record to compete in this new climate. Contact us today to discuss your claim.

Florida Insurance Companies are Running Scared and Continue to Dismantle Consumer Protections and Safeguards

insurance.jpgOnce again, our lawmakers are siding with insurance companies. Representative Plakon of the Florida House has proposed legislation that takes away the Insurance Consumer Advocate’s ability to give letter grades to insurance companies based on how they treat their policyholders.

The Insurance Consumer Advocate position is established by law and is appointed by the CFO. Their job is to look out for Florida’s insurance consumers by acting as our representative in the law-making process and in various boards. Basically, the Advocate is charged with representing our best interests.

State Farm and Rep. Plakon are trying to get rid of the one independent individual who represents insurance consumers in State government. Considering the wealth of the insurance lobby, you can imagine this is quite the difficult task. It is quite the bold move to eliminate this position in light of the insurance industry’s recent push to deregulate our rates. They have also been supporting legislation that makes it harder to file a claim and get fully paid on a claim.

How have the insurance companies been able to accomplish this? Well, they have seemingly convinced lawmakers that they are losing so much money that the whole system needs to be overhauled in their favor. However, the numbers tell a different story.

For fire insurance policies, insurers made a net profit, after dividends, of $448,803,211. For homeowners and commercial property insurance, insurers made $1,666,262,684 and $49, 479,326, respectively.

Sure, insurance companies are entitled to making a profit. If they don’t make a profit then they would be unable to pay out claims. However, there’s no need to take away the Advocate’s ability to give insurers letter grades. Most importantly, there’s no need take away this power as it will only keep Floridians from understanding how fair an insurer truly is.

While this advocate in government looks out for your interests in the lawmaking process, sometimes it is necessary to hire an advocate that represents you in the courtroom. If you’re having difficulty with your insurer after filing a claim, don’t hesitate to call us so we can represent you in the claims process, and, if needed, in court.

Indeed, if you are facing a dispute over an insurance claim in Florida, contact Alvarez & Barbara, LLP toll free at 866-518-2913 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Three Low Pressure Systems Could Strengthen Into Tropical Storms as South Florida Enters November

South Florida hasn’t reached dry land just yet.

As our Miami hurricane damage lawyers continue to report, October and November have witnessed half of the South Florida hurricane activity during the past century. Wilma, the last major hurricane to strike the region, hit during the last week of October five years ago.

The Treasure Coast Palm reports three low pressure systems in the Atlantic have a better than even chance of becoming tropical cyclones as South Florida enters the month of November.
The National Hurricane Center reports the storms form a triangle between the southern tip of Florida and the coast of Africa. The storms were given a 20-60 percent chance of reaching tropical cyclone strength on the eve of Halloween weekend.

Consequently, forecasters are calling for 6- to 8-foot seas with even higher seas in the Gulf Stream.

So far, the Atlantic Hurricane Season has brought:

June: Hurricane Alex, first category 2 hurricane in June since 1966.

July: Tropical Depression #2 and Tropical Storm Bonnie.

August: Tropical Storm Colin, Tropical Depression #5, Major Hurricane Danielle, Major Hurricane Earl, and Tropical Storm Fiona.

September: Tropical Storm Gaston, Tropical Storm Hermine, Major Hurricane Igor, Major Hurricane Julia, Major Hurricane Karl, Hurricane Lisa, Tropical Storm Matthew and Tropical Storm Nicole.
If you are facing a dispute over an insurance claim in Florida, contact Alvarez & Barbara, LLP toll free at 866-518-2913 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Anniversary of Hurricane Wilma a reminder of the lessons learned in South Florida

This week marks the five year anniversary of Hurricane Wilma, the last major storm to strike South Florida.

Newspapers as far away as California marked the anniversary, as the Sacramento Bee reported the storm’s $10.3 billion in claims have resulted in insurers leaving the state even as Citizen’s Property Insurance — the underfunded state-backed insurer of last resort — has been forced to step into the gap.
Make no mistake about it: Despite the fact that most of these companies have collected on double-digit premium increases in each of the past five years, claims for the next major storm in South Florida will be best handled by an experienced Miami insurance dispute attorney. Citizens will quickly become insolvent and the private insurers will run for the hills, which likely means delaying and denying claims and generally making it as difficult on homeowners as possible in an effort to avoid paying claims.

Some are claiming a bill vetoed by Gov. Crist earlier this year would have helped return the system to solvency. We don’t buy it. The bill would have limited the amount of time for filing claims to three years, from the five years currently permitted by law. The insurance industry is bound to try again this year. It passed lawmakers once. Enough lobbying dollars and campaign contributions will likely see it pass again, thereby eroding just a little bit more of the rights of homeowners.

The bill would also move to regulate discounts homeowners are permitted to get for hurricane resistant construction. The insurance industry is crying foul over this measure, saying homeowners are taking advantage by having inspectors claim phantom improvements. As we reported on our Florida Insurance Lawyer Blog, this entire issue was prompted by the fact that many insurers were not providing basic hurricane deductions available by default on most newly constructed homes. Instead, insurance companies were treating homes as if they were built in the 1950s and 1960s unless a homeowner understood the process well enough to hire an inspector, retrieve a form from the agent, and proactively seek the deductions.

Wilma plowed into Marco Island shortly before dawn on Oct. 25. Flooding in Collier County was the first report of major damage. Heavy damage in Clewiston and the Lake Okeechobee region left thousands without power. By shortly after lunch, the storm was back out in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Palm Beach.

Tornadoes touched down as far away as Melbourne.

As South Florida heads deep into the final weeks of hurricane season, it is worth noting that this storm hit the peninsula during the last week of October. As we have reported previously, Florida is not clear of the hurricane threat yet, even as winter tourist season begins. Historically, half of the state’s hurricanes have struck South Florida in October and November.

Hurricane season officially ends Oct. 30.
If you are facing a dispute over an insurance claim in Florida, contact Alvarez & Barbara, LLP toll free at 866-518-2913 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Bonnie Earns Respect with her Name; Dangers of Severe Weather Present Regardless of Storm’s Rating

Tropical Storm Bonnie earned respect when she earned her name on Thursday night. Tropical depressions, or areas of intense thunderstorms that gather in the tropics, become named tropical storms when they reach sustained wind speeds of 39 mph.

Understanding how storms are characterized can assist homeowners in knowing what to expect. However, our Miami hurricane damage lawyers caution homeowners against becoming complacent in cases where a tropical storm fails to become a hurricane, or when a hurricane fails to climb the charts.
The act of rating a storm can actually be dangerous when it leads to such complacency. The storm-classification system is designed to assist South Florida residents in understanding what to expect — as long as they understand that, in all cases, a storm carries the risk of serious property damage and the potential for serious or fatal injury when residents fail to take the proper safety precautions.

Tropical storms, such as Bonnie, have wind speeds of 39 to 73 miles an hour and are associated with torrential rains, localized flooding, downed trees and power lines and the possibility of structural damage, particularly to older buildings or mobile homes.

A tropical storm reaches hurricane strength when winds climb above 74 miles an hour and are categorized on a scale of 1 to 5 until the winds reach roughly twice that speed. Anything with sustained winds of more than 155 mph is considered a Category 5 hurricane. Katrina was a Category 5 storm when it hit New Orleans and Andrew was a Category 5 storm when it devastated South Florida in 1992.

Florida Today provides a nice graphic illustration.

Category 1: Minimal Hurricane
Winds: 74 to 95 miles per hour
Storm surge: Up to 5 feet
Damage: Some trees and power lines may be down; damage caused by flying debris; localized flooding; those in mobile and modular homes are at greatest risk.

Category 2: Moderate Hurricane
Winds: 96 to 110 miles per hour.
Storm Surge: 6 to 8 feet.
Damage: Downed trees and power lines; some flooding; debris damages; structural damage possible, particularly in older homes. Mobile and modular homes at great risk.

Category 3: Extensive Hurricane
Winds: 111 to 130 mph
Storm Surge: 9 to 12 feet
Damage: Widespread flooding possible. Significant structural damage to homes and buildings possible. Downed trees and power lines. Probable destruction of mobile and modular homes.

Category 4: Extreme Hurricane
Winds: 131 to 155 mph
Storm Surge: 12 to 18 feet
Damage: Widespread destruction of homes and buildings, structural damages and roof loss are common, significant flooding and storm surge risk, higher likelihood of significant time without power.

Category 5: Catastrophic Hurricane

Winds: Greater than 155 miles per hour
Storm Surge: 18 feet
Damage: Widespread destruction

The important thing to keep in mind when considering a storm’s rating is that all of these storms can cause significant property damage and can lead to the risk of serious or fatal injuries. This weekend’s tropical storm, with winds of 40 miles per hour, is roughly twice as powerful as our typical violent summer weather. A minimal category 1 hurricane is four times as powerful as a typical summer storm.

If you are facing a dispute over an insurance claim in South Florida, contact Alvarez & Barbara, LLP toll free at 866-518-2913 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Hurricane Season is Upon Us – Are You Prepared?

hurricane2_thumb.jpgAnother hurricane season is upon us here in South Florida. The pelting rain. The howling wind. The mad rush of weathermen on both local and national TV. The long lines in the gas stations and food stores.

It is difficult to forget the damage Hurricane Andrew caused to South Florida in 1992, and Hurricane Wilma in 2005. It is just as hard to forget the haunting images of what the residents of New Orleans, and coastal Mississippi went through after Hurricane Katrina made land fall in 2005. These hurricanes, and other smaller storms over the years, caused extensive damage to many properties in Florida, and the Gulf states.

The good news, however, is that with modern technology – and yes, those weatherman that appear constantly on TV – we should have at least 3 to 4 days advance notice of an arriving hurricane. It will be important to use that time wisely.

The most cumbersome part of a hurricane is often the aftermath. For instance, after Hurricane Wilma struck South Florida in 2005 there were many parts of South Florida that was left without electricity for days, and many gas stations that could not dispense fuel for weeks.

Therefore, it becomes important to have a plan in place to deal with hurricanes. And your hurricane preparedness plan should include preparations to address the coming hurricane before it arrives, as it is hitting, and after it makes land fall.

For instance, it will be important for you to take photographs of your property, including vegetation, your roof, personal belongings, etc., prior to the arrival of a hurricane. This will allow you to make the strongest case possible with your insurance company should your property be damaged as a result of the hurricane.

More importantly, you should have ample supplies to last you through the hurricane and beyond. The National Hurricane Center recommends including these items in your hurricane survival kit:

– Water – at least 1 gallon daily per person for 3 to 7 days
– Food – at least enough for 3 to 7 days
– non-perishable packaged or canned food / juices
– foods for infants or the elderly
– snack foods
– non-electric can opener
– cooking tools / fuel
– paper plates / plastic utensils
– Blankets / Pillows, etc.
– Clothing – seasonal / rain gear/ sturdy shoes
– First Aid Kit / Medicines / Prescription Drugs
– Special Items – for babies and the elderly
– Toiletries / Hygiene items / Moisture wipes
– Flashlight / Batteries
– Radio – Battery operated and NOAA weather radio
– Telephones – Fully charged cell phone with extra battery and a traditional (not cordless) telephone set
– Cash (with some small bills) and Credit Cards – Banks and ATMs may not be available for extended periods
– Keys
– Toys, Books and Games
– Important documents – in a waterproof container or watertight resealable plastic bag
insurance, medical records, bank account numbers, Social Security card, etc.
– Tools – keep a set with you during the storm
– Vehicle fuel tanks filled
– Pet care items
– proper identification / immunization records / medications
– ample supply of food and water
– a carrier or cage
– muzzle and leash

To learn more, please contact our office today.

Citizens Property Insurance Requests Rate Increase as South Florida Braces for another Hurricane Season

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. is taking the steps necessary to raise homeowner’s insurance rate by up to 11.3 percent in parts of South Florida, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Wilma in 2005, was the last hurricane to strike South Florida. Still, five years later, property insurers are seeking double-digit rate increases. The availability of Citizen’s Property Insurance is particularly critical for coastal homeowners. The state-run insurer is the insurance company of last resort for homeowners in high-risk areas who otherwise may not be able to get insurance.
On that note, there is some good news. Citizens is proposing a decrease in the average rates in Miami Beach and along the coast in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Statewide, Citizens proposed an average increase of 9.4 percent for policies that cover homes, condominiums, renters, mobile homes and vacation or rental property. Condominium buildings would see an average increase of 12 percent in parts of Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

Meanwhile, the company reports that rates in parts of Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Orange counties should be as much as 120 percent higher — or more than twice the current rate. However, a 2009 state law limits annual increases to 10 percent.

Our Miami insurance claims attorneys question the need to increase rates more than 10 percent, never mind the assertion that rates should be twice as high as current rates. Citizens has had few claims in the absence of hurricanes and, in most cases, the properties it insures are worth just a fraction of their value several years ago, thanks to South Florida’s plummeting real estate values.

Since the company is backed by the state, we have little question that the state will approve the rate increase. And we will stand ready to ensure that Citizens’ customers, and the customers of other Florida insurers, are treated fairly and paid in a timely manner in the event the area is hit by another storm this year.

After years of skyrocketing home insurance rates in South Florida, it’s an obligation we intend to see that these companies fulfill on behalf of our clients.
If you are facing a dispute over an insurance claim in Florida, contact Alvarez & Barbara, LLP toll free at 866-518-2913 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

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