Perspective | Shelter from the Storm
Local insurance attorneys share their top tips for hurricane claimants.
Abysmal. Bleak. Challenging. Alarming.
These are some of the words used by insurance attorneys when asked to describe the current state of the insurance industry in Louisiana, which has been pummeled by hurricanes over the past two years.
In the past year, eight insurance companies holding policies in the state have gone into receivership — essentially another term for bankruptcy — causing those who were insured by one of those carriers to have their policies canceled or not renewed. Affected claimants may receive compensation from the Louisiana Insurance Guaranty Association, but likely at a discount and after an extended additional delay. Even for those seeking compensation from companies that have remained in business, homeowners insurance companies can often underpay hurricane claims. In these situations, a policyholder’s best move can be to hire an experienced attorney.
The current lack of carriers has left many homeowners scrambling to obtain coverage for future storms at affordable premiums. For many Louisianans, coverage may be split between multiple carriers. Often, the most difficult coverage to obtain — wind and hail — is falling to the state-backed insurer Louisiana Citizens, which remains available to homeowners, but due to higher prices is considered a carrier of last resort.
While circumstances may change and improve in the region, it may take a few years — and no major hurricanes. In the meantime, whether you’re dealing with current or future repairs, there are a few things you can do to make the process of dealing with insurance companies, contractors and adjusters go a little more smoothly. Biz spoke with a few local insurance attorneys to get their insight, as well as some of their best tips and advice for policyholders.
Berniard Law Firm
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Don’t be afraid to call daily, ask to speak to the adjuster’s supervisor, file complaints with the Louisiana insurance commissioner, tag the company with your complaints on social media, and do whatever it takes to make sure you receive just compensation. If you do nothing, the insurance company will happily pay you as little as possible.
Never work with a contractor who says they will “bill the insurance company directly” and refuses to give you a quote. If you do receive money from the insurance company, that is between you and the insurance company. You do not need to tell your contractor how much you received. I also strongly urge my clients to only work with local companies. After a major loss there are always hundreds, if not thousands, of fly-by-night contractors taking advantage of unsuspecting customers desperate to return home.
Justin Chopin, The Chopin Law Firm
Peter J. Diiorio
New Orleans Legal, LLC
Insureds should promptly submit a claim to their insurer and see what the insurer will pay. If it’s close to what the homeowner believes he or she is entitled to, the homeowner should simply begin repairs with those funds and submit additional invoices if the costs are higher than the amount paid. If there is a sizable dispute, a homeowner should not try to negotiate, as it is simply an unwinnable battle for the underpaid homeowner unless the homeowner obtains professional representation.
Megan C. Kiefer
Kiefer & Kiefer
The best advice I can give people is to be organized. If you can give the adjuster your claim on a platter with itemized damages, a description of those damages, and attachments of expert invoices and receipts to support your damages, you are more likely to get paid quicker than just sending over a package of receipts without any explanation, which may mean the adjuster has to do a lot more homework on your claim than the next.