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Harvey FAQ for Homeowners

Arnold & Itkin wins billions of dollars for our clients because we understand how insurance companies work. They take advantage of homeowners when they are most vulnerable to make a profit—even if that means people are left without the money they need to rebuild. If you want to fight back against your insurance company for the way they’re treating you, the best way is through a civil suit—or by simply hiring a lawyer. When they know that your attorney is from a Houston law firm, a firm that is known for standing up for our neighbors and winning against the largest companies in the world, they’ll be more willing to listen to you.

Learn about all your legal and financial options.Call (888) 400-2101 or contact us online for a free consultation today!

What Are My Rights as an Insured Party?

The law grants you certain rights when dealing with an insurance adjuster.

Specifically, insured individuals have the right to:

  • Timely and thorough investigation of their claim
  • Good-faith payment for valid claims
  • Receive payment reasonably quickly
  • Know why a claim was denied, if it was
  • Hold insurers accountable for bad faith dealings

How Much Are My Losses Worth?

The average household has around $25,000 in goods—including household appliances, antiques, jewelry, high-value garments, furniture, and more. In Houston, the median home size is 1,900 sq. ft., with some areas seeing 42-48 inches of flooding after Harvey. Taking those numbers into account, loss calculators indicate that many homeowners will be facing losses of at least $70,000—not including the loss of multiple vehicles, the loss of property value, lost work hours, potential unemployment, business interruption, and other costs.

For homes that were hit with contaminated runoff (a danger that the chief medical officer of Houston warned residents about), the safety of your home may increase the cost of repairing it. Mold, sewage, toxic chemicals, and the growth of E. coli and other dangerous bacteria have appeared in waterlogged homes all over Houston. Many homeowners are weighing their options, wondering if it’s worth saving their homes at all.

Homeowners with larger houses (and thus with more extensive damage) could easily face six- or even seven-figure losses from Hurricane Harvey—losses that insurance companies are eager to shift completely onto your shoulders.

Why Is My Claim Taking So Long?

In the mid-1990s, the nation’s largest insurance companies—including State Farm and Allstate, the most common insurers in the greater Houston area—adopted a business strategy called the McKinsey model. This model used computers to offer settlements up to 30 percent less than what homeowners deserved. The system would prioritize payouts for people who accepted smaller settlements. People who demanded the settlements they actually deserved were forced to wait.

The strategy was to make insurance lawsuits so expensive that lawyers would refuse to take the cases.

This would back insured people into a corner: either spend exorbitant amounts of money to sue the company in a case they may not even win—or take the low-ball offer. Adjusters also have a bag of tricks to extend the wait time for a claim payout. For instance, adjusters can indefinitely keep claims open as long as they check in with you on a regular basis.

Laws govern how quickly an insurance company must respond to your claim, but how quickly they pay you is another matter. Adjusters can demand investigation into causes for virtually any reason, forcing you to wait for more inspections while your savings drain away. For most people, delayed claims mean financial disaster. This isn’t a matter of inconvenience. This is your life. A delayed claim can cause eviction, loss of medical care, bankruptcy, or other life-changing events. Over 25 percent of Americans can’t handle a $2,000 setback in a 30-day period. Harvey means people are facing hundreds of thousands in expenses.

What If I Had Insurance Coverage—But Was Still Denied?

Your first step is to understand the reason your claim was denied. Adjusters are required to provide an explanation for the denial. In most cases, the denial notice will come with the relevant excerpt from your policy to highlight why.

The most common reasons for a denial of a claim are:

  • Not filed on time
  • Damages not covered
  • Fraud is suspected
  • Policy limits are met/exceeded
  • Premiums are unpaid
  • Documentation is lacking

Once you know why your claim was denied, you can appeal the decision in a letter. The letter needs to include new evidence or paperwork that would justify the insurance company changing its mind. Without an attorney, the appeal will likely be costly. If an appeal is denied, your only options are a.) give up and start rebuilding with your own money, or b.) sue the insurance company.

For more information on how to handle a denied claim, visit this page.

What If I Don't Have Flood Insurance?

Up to 80 percent of homes that were flooded after Hurricane Harvey do not have a flood insurance policy. Part of the reason for that is that many of the homes flooded were not in flood-risk zones. Between inaccurate FEMA maps and runoff created by massive "controlled releases" from local dams, homeowners that were never told to buy flood insurance suddenly found themselves in three feet of toxic, contaminated flood waters, causing massive damage to their walls, floors, and belongings.

If you don't have flood insurance, you may be able to make an inverse condemnation claim against the officials who allowed your home to be flooded—specifically against organizations like the San Jacinto River Authority, who allowed 2 billion gallons of water per hour to flow from their dams with little advance warning to the communities below them. This massive wall of water is what destroyed thousands of homes downriver—even homes that were never damaged by heavy rains or high winds.

Inverse condemnation claims are lawsuits against local governments for the seizing (and deliberate destruction) of private property for government use. If the SJRA or the Harris County Flood Management District destroyed your home in order to "protect the dam," then it would qualify as inverse condemnation. In fact, a similar situation was allowed to proceed to trial in 2014 thanks to the Texas Supreme Court. Call (888) 400-2101 to learn if you qualify for a claim.

What Do I Do If My Insurance Company Won’t Help Me Rebuild?

Most Houston homeowners who suffered losses from Harvey don’t have flood insurance to cover their damage. Having flood damage at all usually means your costs will be excluded under your private insurance policy. So what are your options? For homeowners in specific high-risk zones, you may have the option to file an inverse condemnation claim against Harris County. Inverse condemnation cases allege that the government allowed a public project to put your private property at risk without your knowledge or consent.

The most likely homes to qualify for a claim are homes located in/near:

  • Addicks Reservoir
  • Barker Reservoir
  • Buffalo Bayou Dam
  • Housing developments in or around dams

Your other option is to sue your insurance agent for bad faith. When you're sold a policy that was never intended to be fulfilled (or was designed to not help you in an emergency), then your insurance agent committed a form of professional malpractice—qualifying you to sue them for your losses. If your claim is clearly valid or your policy was never appropriate to sell to you, then you may be able to recover losses in an insurance agent lawsuit.

For more information on inverse condemnation claims, visit this page.

Do I Have Options If My Insurance Isn’t Covering All of the Damage?

Yes—including options for immediate cash as well as options for long-term relief. The first thing you should do is file a claim with NFIP if you have flood insurance. The program is underwritten by FEMA, so expect a long wait time. Also, your payout will not likely cover the complete cost of the flood damage. Another option for fast relief is the SBA disaster loan program. It’s a low-interest loan offered to both businesses and homeowners following a natural disaster. However, it’s not true “relief” in that you will need to pay it back eventually. Thankfully, the maximum interest rate is below 3.75 percent.

For more information about your options, visit the full answer here.

What If My Insurance Won’t Cover Additional Living Expenses?

Insurance companies often delay payment to pressure you into settling for less than you deserve. If you think an insurance company is too “decent” to use a tragedy as leverage, think again—we’ve seen it happen too many times to give them the benefit of the doubt. The best way to fight back is to get relief from multiple sources. That way, it gives you more power to let them play their waiting game. Every penny could mean having the strength to wait for a better settlement.

The first thing you should do is apply for a loan from the SBA. Even if you’re not a business owner, the SBA offers low-interest loans following a disaster. That money could go toward living expenses and rebuilding efforts. You can apply for relief from FEMA for temporary living expenses, long-term housing, and other costs if your insurance is not sufficient to cover your damages (or too slow to act). Consider applying for grants from local disaster-relief efforts as well. The Disaster Unemployment Assistance program offers unemployment benefits for those left jobless by Harvey. In Texas, the maximum benefit is up to $493 a week.

For more information about insurance tactics and seeking relief for living expenses, visit here.

Can I Retrieve my Items from my Home After a Prolonged Flood?

Due to the 13 Superfund sites around Houston, the waters that flooded the city were highly toxic and potentially life-threatening. The same could be said of the silt and residue left behind by the waters, some of which contains lead and other industrial toxins.

Local researchers and homeowners have found that bacteria growth is especially dangerous inside of homes, as the warm, dark environment allows mold and germs to reproduce quickly. Many homes have large amounts of E. coli in the water, which is potentially fatal if ingested. Others have gotten staph infections or suffered persistent breathing problems after going home, even for just an hour.

Check with your local health and safety office to ensure that it’s safe to enter your home and grab your things. Even if they say it’s safe, wear protective gear that covers your mouth, nose, eyes, and ears. Be extra careful if you have any open wounds or are immuno-deficient. Under no circumstances should you drink or bathe with the water—use bottled water for the time being.

For a more in-depth answer to this question, visit this page.

Why Should I Hire an Attorney Before I File My Insurance Claim?

As insurance lawyers, our job is to hold insurance companies to the task of handling claims with honesty. Our work can be reactive (i.e. handle a case after the claim has been denied or delayed), but our clients get the best results when they call us proactively, before their claim is filed. By consulting us on your initial filing, our team’s adjusters, damage assessors, and other experts can gather as much evidence as possible about your damages quickly and thoroughly.

When you don’t wait months to call us, we can immediately ensure that your claim is strengthened and expedited as much as possible—likely leading to a more favorable result than if you never called us at all. A 1999 study from the Insurance Research Council revealed that insurance payouts for people who hired representation were 3.5 times larger than those without representation. Another study revealed that 85% of the money paid out by insurance companies is paid out to people who had lawyers. Hiring us sooner increases the likelihood that you’ll have a larger payout sooner.

For a more in-depth answer to this question, visit this page.