By Michelle Cruff, Gravely and Pearson LLC
Most of us in Colorado have had to deal with it at one time or another. Those dreaded ice-balls falling from the sky: hail. As many Coloradoans know, storms like the devastating early-May tempest that dropped nearly 2-inch hail and took out the Colorado Mills Mall are just the beginning of an often nightmare-like experience. But there are a few ways that homeowners and managers can make this experience easier on themselves and their communities. Here are 13 tips for what to do when you have found yourself and your community in the eye of the storm:
1. Document, Document, Document! Take photos before a loss. This can be a video of the property, photos, or any other form of evidence that shows that the property looked like in “good” condition.
2. Notify your insurance company of the storm that came through (in writing) even if you do not believe there were any damages. Why, you ask? It is your duty under the insurance contract. Plus, you, as a homeowner or manager, may not know of any damages right off the bat, as water intrusion can happen over time. Months down the road, owners and tenants may be complaining of leaky roofs where no leaks ever existed before, and it all relates back to a single hail-storm. By notifying your insurance company immediately, they will send out an adjuster to formally inspect the property for damages. In the event they say “no damages were found” or “minimal damages were noted, but not enough to meet your deductible” get a second opinion.
3. Document, Document, Document! When a loss has occurred, once again, document the loss, by taking photos, videos, etc. 4. Obtain a certified copy of your policy. Don’t get just the declarations page, get a full copy. This will ensure that you are able to identify key aspects of your policy such as limits, deductibles, and exclusions as of the date that the damage happened.
5. Designate “one voice” to interact with the insurance company. This can either be the manager, or the Board President. This will protect the community from any errors in communication and will help to prevent related delays in your claim.
6. Mitigate your damages. If you need to place a tarp over the roof to prevent further damages, do it. Keep any receipts that you paid out of pocket to mitigate any damages. However, DO NOT MAKE PERMANENT REPAIRS.
7. Document, Document, Document! Cooperate with your insurance company and be proactive about working with them. Document all of your communications; these should be done in writing and you should limit any verbal conversations
8. Contractors, public adjusters and roofers will come out of the woodwork after a storm. Check their references and keep in mind that contractors and roofers cannot advocate, negotiate claims, or discuss coverage and exclusions with the insurance company. Only a public adjuster or an attorney can do this. Also, anyone who promises to pay your insurance deductible is violating Colorado law!
9. Get your own estimate of damages. It’s like getting a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. Hire someone who can obtain all damages. Hail storms can damage not just roofs, but also gutters, fences, siding, rtu’s (roof top units), brick, handrails, etc. Getting your own estimates will help you in evaluating whether your insurance company is paying sufficiently.
10. Document, Document, Document! Have we said that before?
11. If your insurance company requests a “proof of loss”, an “examination under oath”, or “appraisal,” tread lightly! These requests, if not handled properly can lead to severe limits of coverage or bar any recovery under your policy.
12. Make sure to mark your calendars; many Colorado insurance policies require communities to file a lawsuit (if necessary) within two years from the date of the storm.
13. Contact an experienced law firm in the event that you feel you are running up against the two year deadline, were treated unfairly, bad faith is involved, the claim was underpaid, or if you were denied payment of your claim. Make sure the law firm you choose has experience in insurance disputes and handling HOA matters, and has a successful trial record.
Michelle is the Vice President of Client Relations at Gravely & Pearson, LLP, a Texas-based law firm that handles hail damage and insurance recovery cases around the country.