As spring unfolds in Florida, we’re preparing for the possibility of tornadoes and thunderstorms that can cause storm damage to commercial properties and homes. Then, hurricane season begins on June 1. Storm damage will prompt property owners to file insurance claims and lawsuits to recoup losses. This article takes a closer look at the mechanics of a solid storm damage insurance claim and how storm damage experts prepare to help defend your claim.
Data Gathering Before Filing A Storm Damage Insurance Claim
Paul Beers, CEO & Founder of GCI Consultants, is a leading expert on hurricane damage and protection and has served as an expert witness in federal and circuit courts for windows, doors, glass and wall systems, and water leakage. He says it’s important to understand the premise of what you’re looking at and why as it relates to damage from an insurable event:
“When I am contacted about an insurance claim, the first thing I do is gather as much data as I can around the property itself (including pre-event condition) as well as the event that caused the damage. I want to first understand the big picture.”
After the initial information gathering, a GCI expert would likely take a look at the property to get a representative sample to see if there’s evidence of damage. At that point, it’s time for the expert to make a go or no-go decision as far as filing a claim.
Putting Together A Storm Damage Investigation Plan
If it’s a go, GCI will begin to develop an investigation plan to produce additional data needed to defend the claim. The investigation would typically involve the following:
- A comprehensive visual inspection
- Invasive or destructive analysis (taking things apart to inspect hidden damage)
- Testing of the damaged items using industry-accepted standards and methodologies
“Testing is a critical piece of our storm damage evaluation process,” says Beers. “For example, if you’ve got damage to a tile roof, we might have one of our experts do some uplift testing of the tiles. Or if you’re claiming water leakage, we may conduct field water infiltration testing on your windows and doors.”
Videos of that testing can also be used later in court to support expert witness testimony.
The point is, we have a test for each of the critical types of damage and can help provide data that strengthens your claim.”
Documenting Storm Damage For Your Claim
Building envelope damage experts typically collect their own independent information versus relying on an outside party. There are two types of analysis they use as the claim is being developed.
Quantitive analysis is a broad look at everything involved in the claim. This means a comprehensive visual inspection of damage done in a way that can be easily included in a report or presentation and is typically documented with videos or photographs.
Qualitative analysis is done via testing and invasive or destructive tactics. This can involve creating conditions that are representative of the storm conditions and then extrapolating data from there to apply to your documentation for the entire claim.
Developing Your Expert’s Report
The expert’s report should provide robust detail of the storm damage inspection, any testing conducted, and the expert’s analysis and opinions.
“The expert should use the report as the basis for their opinion as to whether or not there was storm damage and then make recommendations about how to repair the damaged areas to the pre-storm conditions,” says Beers.
If the report will be used in a trial it needs to meet the requirements of whatever jurisdiction or tribunal would be reviewing the facts and may need to contain specific expert opinions.
“This is where your expert needs to step up with the data collected during the storm damage investigation to eliminate any doubts and provide options about how to remedy the damage.”
Defending Your Storm Damage Insurance Claims
When it comes to storm damage claims, your expert and the insurance carriers may have different end-games in mind. Your expert needs to be prepared to defend what’s in his or her report. Beers offers insight into his approach:
“I always think about being able to defend my work every step of the way. While I’m collecting data or writing the reports, I try to put everything into context in a way that will enable me to properly defend it later.”
The same is true should the claim go to litigation:
“The reporting I provide can help my clients who are construction and insurance claim litigators be able to use it to try to persuade their clients and the opposing parties to reach a fair settlement.”
Beers says that he expects every word of his report to be scrutinized by insurance providers, opposing counsel, and juries.
“The data has to be accurate, your methodology to collect the data must follow industry standards, and it has to presented clearly. Every layperson on that jury needs to be able to understand what I’m presenting,” explains Beers.
Should your expert need to provide his or her testimony, it helps to be very experienced with the litigation process:
“I generally know what’s coming and what to anticipate in terms of being called as an expert witness. I know how both sides work, and I am prepared.”
Beers says that having all of the supporting documentation ready to present is critical to success. However, he’s seen experts falter when they’ve revealed too much detail:
“I’ve seen where an expert states things over and over again during their testimony–going into an unnecessary amount of detail. It can make them appear biased. You need to just tell it like it is because above all else, as an expert, your credibility is most important.”
Developing Relationships Ahead Of Time
It’s never too early to start preparing for the next storm. This doesn’t apply just to things like boarding up windows and having enough food and water on hand. This means reaching out to experts in your area who can help you be proactive about managing any potential claims. It’s a good idea to know who to turn to before something happens. Beers advises:
“The most important thing is to have an experienced team, including public adjusters, attorneys, and building experts that understand the entire insurance claim process and have a track record of getting results for their clients. They can be ready to help you when it counts.”
If you need help, you can get in touch with the experts at GCI Consultants to discuss your storm damage claim.