Homeowners insurance isn’t required by law in Florida, but if you have a mortgage, chances are you will be required to carry coverage. This is for your mortgage provider’s own protection as much as yours. After all, if your house goes up in flames, it may be difficult for the bank or other mortgage provider to recover their money if you don’t have insurance to cover the loss.
Even though homeowners insurance is supposed to protect you in the event of a loss, insurers are always looking for a way to undercut the value of your property. At the end of the day, the insurance company is just that: A company. They are looking out for their bottom line more than anything else, and this can leave you more frustrated than ever.
At Steinger, Greene & Feiner, our Miami property damage lawyers are intimately familiar with the tricks and tactics insurance companies use to give you a lowball offer. It may seem like you have no options once they offer their settlement. Luckily, we know how to negotiate with property damage insurance claims adjusters to get a fair settlement for the damage done to your home.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you negotiate:
1. Understand the Policy You Bought (Or Was Bought For You)
When you buy a homeowners insurance policy, it will typically cover fire, lightning strikes and other natural disasters (except floods and earthquakes; those typically need to be bought separately). It will also cover personal belongings, like jewelry and collectibles. You may also buy additional coverage for trees and shrubs on your property, and you may also buy coverage for detached buildings like garages, sheds and gazebos.
It’s important to note that if you don’t buy a homeowners insurance policy on your own, your mortgage provider may buy a policy for you and charge you for it.
When you file a claim with your homeowners insurance provider, it’s important to know exactly what’s covered. For instance, if you have a $3,000 ruby pendant that was lost in a house fire, but you didn’t list it on your policy, your insurance company won’t reimburse you for it. More importantly, knowing exactly what’s covered gives you a strong leg to stand on for negotiating with the claims adjuster.
2. Understand What’s In Your Claim and Settlement Offer
When you receive your settlement offer, chances are it’s going to be lower than what it should be. We mentioned the fact that insurers send lowball offers because it helps their bottom line, but there’s another reason they do it: They plan on you rejecting the first offer, so they line up a more “reasonable” one.
When you get your offer, ask the adjuster to break down the claim. They may point out different language in your policy that excludes certain damages; have them clarify those exclusions in simple English. Keep records of everything the claims adjuster tells you, and gather documents that provide evidence as to why the offer is too low (for instance, a quote from an independent contractor for repairing the damage to your home.
You should also prepare to question the claims adjuster in the event your claim is outright denied. Be polite and find out why it was denied.
3. Appeal Your Offer
While calling your insurance claims adjuster is more convenient, it’s much better to put your appeal in writing. This allows you to create a paper trail of the appeal.
Write a letter to your adjuster, explaining why you believe the offer was too low. Include copies of any evidence you’ve gathered, and ask for a response within a certain timeframe, such as five business days.
Send the letter via certified mail so you know exactly when the letter was sent and received, and be sure to send a copy to the adjuster’s supervisor. Though you may be frustrated, especially if you were sent an insultingly low offer, avoid the urge to act on your frustration. Being adversarial can make the whole process much more difficult.
4. Consult a Florida Property Damage Lawyer
If the insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement, it may be time to get a lawyer involved. An experienced attorney will have quite a few resources at their disposal. One such resource is a professional appraiser. An appraiser will review the damage to your house and any other property to calculate a fair number you should be paid.
The insurance company may also have their own appraiser to assess the damage. An impartial party called an umpire will break any deadlocks between appraisers. It’s important to note that, just because appraisers and an umpire have come to an agreed-upon amount of damages, your claims adjuster doesn’t have to pay that amount.
This is where mediation comes into play. During this process, your attorney, a representative of the insurance company, and an impartial mediator will sit down and hash out what you should be paid. If an agreement is reached, it’s important it’s put down on paper and signed by all parties. Otherwise, the insurance company can act like mediation never happened if they didn’t like the outcome (meaning the agreement is nonbinding).
5. Last Resort: Filing a Lawsuit
If everything above fails, your next and final option (besides simply accepting the offer) is to file a lawsuit. At Steinger, Greene & Feiner, we always try to avoid filing a suit in property damage cases if possible. This is because the other options above are much quicker. A lawsuit can be a long process.
That’s not to say, however, that we won’t or can’t go to court on your behalf. Our experienced Miami property damage lawyers know how to take on the insurance companies in and out of the courtroom to get you the compensation you deserve. The insurance company may not want to pay you a fair settlement, but we know how to make them open their wallets.
Call us today at 800-560-5059 or contact us online today for a free, no-obligation consultation. We’re on your side.