Posts made in October 2017

~*Uninsured or Underinsured in the wake of Hurricane Irma?*~

Hurricane Irma:

If you are a homeowner, business owner, or renter affected by Hurricane Irma, you still may be able to receive certain benefits through the Federal Emergency Management Agency “FEMA” if you are uninsured or underinsured.

Storm damage and losses from the hurricane and flooding must have occurred because of Hurricane Irma, beginning on September 4, 2017.

If your home was destroyed or your damage is very serious, you may be eligible for FEMA assistance regardless of whether you are also submitting an insurance claim.

Even if you have insurance, if your coverage falls short of compensating you for every aspect of your loss, you may still be eligible for relief from FEMA. If this is you, when applying for assistance, let FEMA know what insurance coverage you have, as they may be able to fill in the gaps. Also, understand that as part of the application process, you may be asked to provide evidence that your insurer denied your claim in order for FEMA to determine your eligibility for assistance.1

For some examples, FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program covers temporary housing and rental assistance, home repairs or replacement, and provides other benefits that are not always available through insurance. Although many insurance policies provide Additional Living Expenses “ALE” coverage, FEMA may kick in where your insurance company falls short. (see FEMA Fact Sheet, September 2017).

The other beneficial aspect of FEMA assistance is that, unlike a bank loan or even a loan backed by the U.S. Business Administration, (“SBA” loan), it does not have to be paid back.

In sum, for those affected by Irma who are insured, file separate claims with your insurance company and with FEMA. FEMA will not duplicate payments made by your insurer. Those without insurance may still be eligible for help depending upon the severity of your circumstance, and those of you who have insurance but may be underinsured may receive additional help from FEMA after your insurance claims have been paid. (See Tampa Bay Times article)

For a list of Florida counties that have made eligible for individual assistance under FEMA go to: https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4337.

For more information, or to register for assistance, go to www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).

For those survivors with disabilities or who need other special accommodations, you can request specialized services from FEMA, including technologies such as braille, language interpreters, sign language interpreters (including video remote), amplified listening devices, and magnifiers. For more on this, see: https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2017/09/29/services-available-hurricane-irma-survivors-disabilities-access-needs

FEMA recommends that you have the following information ready when you apply for assistance:

  • •Social Security number
  • •Address of the damaged home or apartment
  • •Description of the damage
  • •Information about insurance coverage
  • •A current contact telephone number
  • •An address where you can receive mail
  • •Bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit of funds If you have suffered a loss not fully compensated by insurance, FEMA, or other program, you may be eligible for a long-term low-interest disaster recovery loan from the government, or SBA loan. This can be addressed by calling the SBA disaster customer service center at 800-659-2995 or (TTY) 800-877-8339 or www.sba.gov/disaster.
  • And if you need practical information on what to do long-term, FEMA just announced yesterday they will have mitigation specialists on hand in various locations available to answer questions and to offer home improvement tips, along with proven methods to prevent or reduce damage from future disasters and techniques on building hazard-resistant homes. The official press release with a list of locations and hours is available at: https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2017/10/07/4337/irma-mitigation-outreach-available-florida-home-improvement-stores
  • Hopefully you will be eligible for FEMA assistance and your claim will be paid. If not, you should receive written notification that your claim is not being accepted, why it is not being accepted, and how to appeal the decision.

 

~5 tips for Inventorying Water Damaged Sites~

Water damage in house after flooding with stains on the wall

5 tips for claims pros inventorying water-damaged sites

PCI360 |Oct 03, 2017 | By Joel Makhluf

 

Filing a flood claim begins with a thorough inventory of the contents and structural damage. A written inventory and photos are crucial to this aspect. (Photo: American Technologies, Inc.)

It is hard to put a dollar value on the water damage caused by severe weather events.

Hiscox estimated the cost of insured damage caused by Harvey and Irma at between $50 and $70 billion, and the National Centers for Environmental Information put the cost of severe floods in Missouri, Arkansas and California at $3 billion.

Of course, water damage is not limited to superstorms but are more consistently caused by broken water mains or pipes, expired water heaters, ice dams or roof failure.

Effective inventorying of water-damaged sites is a skill every claims professional should have in their arsenal. Here are five handy tips to help.

 

1. Safety first

Safety must always be your first priority when assessing water damage. Hazards include the risk of structural collapse, exposure to toxins (particularly sewage contamination and mold), an influx of rodents or other pests, and the risk of electrocution. Ask the policyholder to confirm the likely source of the water, and the height to which the water rose. This will help you to estimate the scale of the damage and the probability of contamination.

Ensure the safety of the policyholder and any third parties, and always use protective equipment. Your basic kit should include a facemask and eye protection. You may also need a full or half mask with respiratory filters, along with water resistant gloves and boots and a Tyvek suit. It pays to be prepared for any eventuality.

 

 

2. Save what you can

See if anything can be salvaged from the site. Non-porous items like glassware and ceramics can probably be saved. Hardwood furniture, some textiles, electrical equipment and appliances might be salvageable. Upholstered sofas, rugs or other soft items or furniture made of porous wood will probably have to be safely disposed of. That said, there are new industrial strength dry cleaning technologies today that can restore soft goods and hardware such as ceramics and consumer electronics.

Be guided by the value of the item, the cost of cleaning and restoration, and the risk to health. Even though a child’s plastic toy is not porous, the potential risk of contamination is not worth taking.

 

Survey the site

Next, make a thorough inventory of all contents room by room with the policyholder. This will furnish you with a wealth of information, but may be upsetting for the homeowner. Be patient, and take your time. In CAT situations where deployment of claims pros may be stalled or delayed, self-service websites like HarveyContents.com or IrmaContents.com can go a long way to help claimants with inventorying, photo/video and receipt uploading, and generating the appropriate documentation for claims submission.

Collect as much information on each item as you can. Confirm the purchase price, brand, materials, age and provenance. Pay particular attention to high-value items, heirlooms, antiques, original artworks and soft furnishings. Specialty items can be hard to value. You may need to recruit external appraisers with domain expertise. Check whether any items have already been disposed of and if there are any articles the policyholder is desperate to keep.

This is also a good time to manage the expectations of the policyholders. Let them ask questions, give them a clear picture of the timeframes involved with the claims process, and exchange contact details.

 

Document the damage

A site diagram is a great way of recording losses. Label the rooms using the names provided by the policyholder to make asking follow-up questions easier. Take photographs of everything from a variety of angles to catch useful information. For example, photograph a rug beside a tape measure to help you estimate the knot count. Highlight details that can help establish the value of an item later, like serial numbers and brand names. Remember that water-damaged items can be very fragile, so handle with care.

 

Collate, catalogue and classify

Organize items on your inventory into easy to manage categories. For high value items, you want as much detailed information as possible. For lower value goods, you can estimate a general figure for a class of item. For example, toiletries, cleaning products and food can be grouped together and a general estimate made. Designer clothes may merit individual valuation, but an estimated value may be sufficient for a closet of children’s clothes.

Documenting lost possessions in the aftermath of a catastrophe like Harvey or Irma may be the last thing people feel like doing. But this daunting task must be completed not only for claims purposes but for cases where the claimant wants to receive a tax write-off for uncovered losses. Effective inventorying of water-damaged contents will make the claims process faster and less painful for all parties, making your job as a claims pro a whole lot easier.

 

~Concealed Carry Insurance~

Concealed carry insurance coverage

Aug 30, 2017 | PCI360 | Christine G. Barlow, CPCU

Homeowners insurance may cover damages stemming from an incident where the owner is legally liable, but not criminally charged. (Photo: Shutterstock)

While most Americans have probably not read the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, most are familiar with certain sections, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to bear arms.

Americans love their guns and are proud to own and carry them. Estimates indicate that there are roughly 300 million guns owned by Americans. Many states have “shoot first” or “stand your ground” laws, allowing someone legally carrying a firearm to shoot first and ask questions later if they fear for their lives. What happens next though?

An individual legally carrying a weapon who shoots someone, even in self-defense, may very well be arrested and have to appear in court, and may even face criminal charges. The homeowners policy provides a defense if the insured is legally liable but will not defend criminal charges, nor do most carriers have special advisory teams to advise the insured on what to do once arrested.

Gun insurance available

Fortunately for those legally carrying guns, insurance for such actions is available. The United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) provides a policy for its members designed to provide immediate assistance after an incident. Limits range from $250,000 to $1,000,000 for civil suit defense, damages, and firearm theft coverage; $50,000 to $125,000 for attorney retainer and up-front criminal defense; $2,500 to $100,000 immediate bail bond funding; and $250 to $500 a day for compensation while in court.

The insured is to call the carrier immediately after calling the police. A crisis response team will advise the insured on what to say or not to say to the police, coordinate bail, retain an attorney for the insured, and provide support throughout the situation until the end.

The policy form advises the insured to call 911 after a shooting and state he was afraid for his life and had to defend himself, and to request police and an ambulance. Then the insured is to call the crisis team. Once the police arrive, the insured is advised to repeat that he was attacked, feared for his life and had to defend himself, point out evidence and witnesses, and state that he will cooperate fully but needs his attorney present.

Much of the policy uses common ISO policy language. Where it varies is the coverage for immediate retention of an attorney and bail bond funding, criminal defense, and coverage for civil suit defense and damages.

Coverage applies when the insured is liable for damages or injury that arise out of an “act of self-defense,” or “covered legal liability” arising out of a non-insured’s use of a stolen “safeguarded firearm,” firearm from a “secured location” or “secured auto,” or taken from the “personal possession” of the insured arising out of a robbery. An “act of self-defense” is just that, the act of defending one’s person or others by the actual or threatened use of a firearm or other weapon that is “legally possessed.” The policy is not looking to defend those with illegal weapons.

Liability from use of stolen firearm

“Covered legal liability” applies to liability arising out of a non-insured’s use of a stolen firearm. The firearm must have been secured before the theft, either with its operation disabled by a trigger lock or other mechanism, being locked in a vehicle out of sight from the outside of the auto, or from a locked residence or office. The theft of the firearm must be reported immediately upon discovery. Coverage will not apply if the police trace the gun to the insured only to have the insured say he noticed the gun missing two weeks ago but hadn’t gotten around to calling it in. Gun owners are supposed to be very responsible when it comes to their weapons.

Criminal acts are naturally excluded. Even if the insured legally owns a gun, using it to shoot a spouse’s lover will not be covered unless there was an altercation and the insured feared for his life. Simply using it to end the affair while the lover is asleep is not covered. Also, if the insured is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and uses the gun to inflict injury or property damage, there is no coverage. Again, the insured is expected to be responsible with his weapon, and if the insured is under the influence and starts shooting at tin cans on the back fence in the middle of suburbia, riddling the neighbor’s house with bullets, there is no coverage.

There are limits to what a homeowners policy will cover when there are claims involving the use of a gun. (Photo: Shutterstock)

NRA policy

The National Rifle Association (NRA) also has a policy available with limits from $100,000 to $1,000,000 for liability coverage and $50,000 to $100,000 for criminal defense. The main policy is geared toward coverage for truly accidental shootings when the insured is hunting or trapping on public or private land; shooting at competitions or for recreation at hunt clubs, gun clubs or supervised commercial or private ranges; or other shooting as long as it is an “accidental discharge” and not prohibited by any local, state or federal law.

“Accidental discharge” is defined as the firing of a firearm, air gun, or bow and arrow when the insured did not intend to fire. If the insured is cleaning his firearm and the weapon discharges, that is an “accidental discharge.” The policy does not cover self-defense, however, that coverage can be added by endorsement. An “act of self-defense” is defined as the use of a “legally possessed firearm” in compliance with local, state or federal laws in defending oneself, others or one’s property.

Also included is the rendering of emergency assistance, but only when such assistance is given at the request of a uniformed law enforcement officer. A “legally possessed firearm” is one owned by the insured in compliance with any local, state or federal law where the injury or damage occurs. Coverage is excess over any other coverage.

Defense of lawsuits

The policy agrees to pay defense of suits against the insured, premiums on bonds up to the limits of liability, and reimburse the insured for reasonable expenses other than loss of earnings. Expenses are not considered part of “damages” as defined. The obligation to defend suits ends when the insured is convicted of a criminal charge for the use of the firearm. If criminal charges are dismissed, the carrier will reimburse the insured for reasonable costs and expenses of his defense up to the defense reimbursement limit shown on the declarations.

The homeowners policy provides coverage for injury or damage caused by an “occurrence” the insured is legally liable for. An “occurrence” is an accident that results in bodily injury or property damage. Intentional acts are excluded, but there is an exception for using reasonable force to protect persons or property. Reasonable force is not defined, so that is open to interpretation.

An insured with a concealed carry permit is best protected by obtaining an insurance policy designed for such exposures. While the homeowners policy affords some protection, it is not geared towards that type of liability coverage nor the type of defense that may be needed.