Insurance Nightmare Following Major Hurricanes
By Sean Lally, Staff Writer
Following the horrific damage dealt by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, some of those who suffered at the hands of Sandy offered some timely advice, saying the worst is yet to come. They referred to the frustrating process of dealing with insurance companies. According to a Huffington Post report, five years after Hurricane Sandy left parts of the Northeast worse for wear, Sophia Vailakis-DeVirgilio’s family is still reeling from the disastrous effects. In fact, Vailakis-DeVirgilio hasn’t been allowed back to her destroyed property. Why? Because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dealt with the situation the way many insurance companies deal with similar situations. They attempted to save a buck instead of help rebuild the lives of those who suffered at no fault of their own.
Doing the Right Thing
Vailakis-DeVirgilio did the right thing: she signed the right forms, contacted the right people and made payments to the National Flood Insurance Program for over ten years leading up to the superstorm.
But when it came time to receive the insurance money, FEMA went low – really low. Vailakis-DeVirgilio only received $69,000 from the agency, an appallingly low number considering the extent of the damage – the whole house was jolted out of its foundation and the walls literally crumbled. After getting the check, she made another logical step: she contacted an attorney.
It Gets Worse
It took her and her family 2 and a half years to reach a dollar amount that satisfied them, and even once they reached a settlement with FEMA, there was even more nerve-wracking stuff to deal with. In addition to moving four times since the storm turned their lives upside-down, they were conned by a contractor, costing them $40,000. With regard to the contractor who defrauded them, Vailakis-DeVirgilio told a local news source, “He charged us for consulting – which he never did, he triple charged us for exploratory demoliton and then for demolition, he charged us for soil samplings and then for sketchings. The only sketchings I’ve seen is some doodlings.”
According to George Kasimos, who founded Stop FEMA Now, “The storm is the easy part.” Earlier this month, members of Stop FEMA Now held a press conference, lambasting the organization for its lackluster programs. Diane Mazzacca, who is also waiting to return home, had this to say at the conference: “My suggestion to anybody that was flooded (or) will be flooded, put on your big girl pants because it’s going to be a long bumpy ride."
Philip Dodd-Nufrio, yet another victim of federal ineptitude, did not mince his words: “You’ve got to do an immediate proof (what was lost) to get your paperwork in order. You will be undercut (by FEMA). You will be shorted. You're going to have to file a suit like most of us did here."
Insurance in General
In a recent Fortune article, Amy Bach suggested that insurance companies are more or less backing out of climate-change related disasters, in an effort to maintain and, if possible, augment profit margins. Many insurance companies have diminished coverage for high speed winds, major storms (ones with names), mold and water damage. Starting in the 1960s, Bach noted, flood damage was separated from general home insurance policies. Many people opt out of flood insurance due to its being extremely expensive.
As observed by Alabama attorneys Long & Long, if you find yourself in this horribly stressful situation, it’s advisable to consult with an attorney who can help you resist the underhanded tactics of insurance companies –they might lie about what coverage you have, put off paying your claim or offer you a really low amount of money, as with Vailakis-DeVirgilio. It’s better to have someone by your side who understands the intricacies of insurance law than to go through this trying time alone.