By: Caroline Maida
From the time Mostyn Law got involved in the Hurricane Sandy litigation in New York and New Jersey in 2014, I have personally reviewed thousands of insured’s flood claim files, and we were able to help almost all those policyholders settle their claim with their insurance company and FEMA. After looking through those thousands of files and working with FEMA and National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) adjusters, I’ve seen almost* everything (*I say almost because FEMA and the NFIP have an innate ability to surprise me).
Since Hurricane Sandy and the unprecedented, widespread fraud on policyholders that our firm uncovered, which was detailed on 60 Minute’s The Storm After The Storm, we have been dedicated to educating home and business owners covered by these government-backed policies. After historic flooding here in our own backyard in 2015 (Memorial Day floods) and 2016 (Tax Day floods), and now after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Steve has allowed me and our team here at Mostyn Law to hold free educational seminars, provide free consultations, host employee clinics for private businesses, public offices and union members, and give general flood insurance advice to home and business owners across Southeast Texas (and the country!) who call our office daily.
We’ve answered thousands of questions, but no doubt, the number one question home and business owners have for us is:
My adjuster/insurance company said that my flood insurance policy doesn’t cover [insert favorite denial here], is that true?!
My answer can usually be found in one of the standard flood insurance policy forms, but here are some general guidelines:
Standard Flood Insurance Policies for your dwelling (fancy word for home) or business do not cover these most frequently asked about items:
- Additional living expenses (these are expenses incurred while forced out of your home because of the flood or flood repairs – i.e. hotel bills, gas money, food, etc.);
- Loss of use or access to the property or financial losses caused by business interruption;
- Any personal property you left outside during the flood (patio furniture, grills, etc.);
- Damage to your lawn, trees, plants, crops, or animals;
- Underground equipment like wells, septic tanks, or septic systems;
- Walkways, decks, driveways, patios located outside the perimeter, exterior walls of your home or business;
- Fences, docks, or piers;
- Swimming pools, hot tubs (that are not in your bathroom) or their equipment (yes, this includes pumps, heaters, filters, etc.);
- Open buildings, like boathouses or structures into which boats are floated on or over water;
- Cabinets not damaged by flood waters (this means if flood damaged your bottom cabinets only, FEMA will only pay to replace or repair those bottom cabinets, even if this means your upper cabinets will no longer match the bottom);
- Mold, mildew, or moisture damage which the owner could’ve avoided (very subjective!!) or which are not attributed to the flood; or
- Damage caused by earth movement, even if the flood caused the earth movement (ah, for my seasoned floodies, this is the dreaded earth movement exclusion).
This is by no means an exhaustive list of items your policy does not, or may not, cover. FEMA’s standard flood insurance policies are long, detailed, and often confusing. NFIP adjusters are given a crash course after major disasters like Hurricane Harvey and they are sent on their way to adjust your claim. Adjusters have what I call “default answers” – meaning, the answers they use when they’re pretty sure some damage is not covered, and you ask why not (you may have heard, “sorry that’s not covered because your water line didn’t get high enough to physically touch it.” …….riiight….but it’s wet?). Please understand this is not to say that adjusters are always wrong or intentionally denying your claim; sure, there will be some bad apples, but I personally know several NFIP adjusters who are very knowledgeable, genuinely care, and want to do what’s right, giving you the best chance to get what you’re entitled to. But before you give up your right to payment based on the word of an adjuster who may, or may not, be correct about your coverage, be sure you double check your policy and know your legal rights. Here are some additional resources you may find helpful for general NFIP flood coverage questions:
If you ever find yourself in a tough position, unable to figure out if you’re entitled to compensation for your damaged property that is being denied by your insurance company, or your adjuster’s advice just doesn’t “sound right,” please do not give up without first consulting an experienced, legal professional.