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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hurricanes are not only dangerous, but expensive

Hurricane Damage
Onshore hurricanes cost nearly $200 million for preparation alone

By Andrew Winston

We all know that hurricanes are dangerous. Even if you don’t live in an area that’s prone to these types of horrifying storms, you at least understand some semblance of how bad it can be from watching the news or talking to friends or relatives who have had to live through one.

In the blink of an eye, a hurricane can rip families apart and destroy the work of a lifetime.But while we always need to consider the human cost of such storms, that can’t be done without dealing with the other kind of cost – the one we define in dollars and cents.

According to the military’s own “Hurricane Hunters,” each hurricane that makes landfalls means about $193 million in preparation expenses for the U.S. government, and that’s not counting any damages done to businesses or individuals by the storm or any general clean-up costs. Often, total expenses end up being in the billions.
Who pays for that?

Who foots the bill depends on many factors

Property & Casualty Claims Lawyer
Businesses do not necessarily qualify for hurricane emergency relief

Emergency relief is almost always paid for by regular people like you and me, either by the government stepping in to help and using our tax dollars or agencies like the Red Cross soliciting donations to providenecessary help to victims. But what about when it goes beyond that?

Say you own a storage business that suffers serious damage and clients’ possessions are ruined. Or you’re a homeowner and your house is flooded. It would be nice to believe that you can just file a claim with your real estate insurance company and expect to have everything covered, but usually that’s not the case. Quite frequently, it gets a lot more complicated.

Take the example of Christie’s storage in Brooklyn. This is an incredibly well-known business, and their Brooklyn facility housed many rare and expensive works of art before Sandy swept through the area, cutting a swath of destruction. Unfortunately, part of this destruction was causing some areas of their warehouse to flood and ruining many irreplaceable works of art. Who’s responsible?

At first glance, it would seem like Christie’s should pay, because the artwork was housed on their premises. Insurers for numerous artists whose work was housed there agree and have filed lawsuits against Christie’s. They even use emails from Christie’s to clients stating that they were raising artwork off the ground to protect it as evidence that not enough was done.

Christie’s, however, argues that their contracts with clients clearly state that the clients are responsible for any damage and that they are required to get their own insurance to protect their business. Is this a case of company negligence or one of insurers desperately trying not to shell out millions in claims?

Hurricane Sandy
Extensive property damage is a common result of hurricanes

There are a wide variety of other Sandy-related cases as well that don’t involve typical property damage claims. Christmas celebrations lost in addition to the destruction caused to a home. Even people who have had to seek out help for mental health problems related to everything they went through when Sandy ravaged the area. How do we determine who pays for that kind of “damage”? Should property insurers who cover hurricane damage be liable for pain and suffering or medical conditions brought on by the bad weather in question? Or should it be covered by medical insurance because it’s a medical problem?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many easy answers, and too many people are discovering that their issues fall into a gray area that no one wants to pay for. Insurance companies are businesses, after all, and as much as they are there to help their customers, they also have to protect their bottom line.

You need to fight, and know the law

Insurance Claims Lawsuit
Challenging settlement offers may yield greater claims compensation

If you really want to make sure that you get the settlement you deserve from a home insurance company, it may be necessary for you to fight back a little bit and refuse their initial settlement offer. Insurers tend to lowball people initially in an effort to save as much money as possible, because they know that many of us will simply take what we’re offered – even if we think it’s too low – to avoid having to fight.

That’s why it’s so important to understand the law. If you know what your legal chances are at getting more money and winning your claim, you’re much more likely to avoid making errors that can cost you.

Those who live in the hurricane-prone North Atlantic basin should take special note, because experts believe that these storms have been getting stronger over the past several decades – even as storms in other areas of the world decrease in power.

Don’t completely lose hope, though. While hurricanes may increase in strength, we’re also improving our methods of how we deal with them, including fighting nature with nature. In the end, prevention and preparation may be the best way to protect yourself and limit costly damage.

About the author: Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphy. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”

Image license: Royalty Free or iStock source: 123rf.com