TAMPA — The Auto Club Group is providing advice to help residents who may have suffered either wind or flood damage from Hurricane Idalia.
“Once conditions are safe to do so, begin assessing your property, take pictures of any damage, and contact your insurance provider immediately to begin the claims process,” Pintacuda continued. “Many providers like AAA offer multiple ways to file a claim, whether that be over the phone, online or a mobile app.”
To file a claim, residents should contact their insurance provider directly. Floridians who have insurance provided by AAA can visit this page for information on filing a claim for home, auto and flood policies.
Widespread flooding will likely result in significant damage to vehicles. Flooding is often covered by “comprehensive” auto insurance policies. However, because Floridians are not required to carry this coverage option, some may not be protected.
When a car has been partially or completely submerged, AAA recommends the following:
• Do not attempt to start a vehicle if the water level rose above the door opening and the interior of the car is wet. Doing so could cause major problems if flood water has contaminated the engine oil or other vehicle fluids.
• Take photos from the exterior of the vehicle. Do not open the doors if the water levels are still high.
• Once the waters have receded, take photos of the interior.
• Contact your insurance provider.
• Do not drive down flooded streets. You may not realize how deep the water is or what’s lurking underneath.
• If you drive through a flooded area, with water above your doors and your engine cuts off, do not try to restart it. Doing so could flood the engine causing severe damage. Instead, evacuate the vehicle through the window and go to a safe location and call for help.
Damage caused by wind and debris is covered by a residents’ homeowners insurance policy. However, that policy does not cover flood damage. This is covered by flood insurance, which is a separate policy provided by National Flood Insurance Program managed by FEMA or other private flood insurance providers.
Without flood insurance, homeowners could apply for federal disaster assistance via a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Unlike claims payments for flood insurance SBA loans must be repaid.
• Document damage as soon as possible. Take photographs and videos for your insurance claim and personal records. The more documentation you have, the easier it is to file your claim.
• Prevent further damage. Do only what’s necessary to prevent further damage, such as covering broken windows with plastic or getting a professional to cover the roof with tarps to keep rain out.
• Document expenses and keep receipts for any preliminary repairs, displacement or other out-of-pocket expenses related to the claim, which can count toward your deductible. This could include tree removal, tarps, ice chests for food, overnight stay in a hotel, etc.
• Contact your insurance company immediately to begin the claims process.
• Be leery of contractors who go door-to-door offering repair services and promising to file an insurance claim on your behalf.
• Hire a licensed contractor to do the repairs after an insurance adjuster has reviewed the damage.
If your home is destroyed or uninhabitable, find a safe place where your family can stay while your home is repaired. The loss-of-use coverage in a standard homeowners insurance policy typically helps pay for your family’s lodging as long as the damage is part of a covered claim. Check your policy or ask your insurance agent to make sure you have this coverage and to determine its monetary value and time limits. If you need help locating temporary housing options, here is more information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
AAA cautions residents about the potential of contractor fraud. The aftermath of a hurricane or other severe storm creates the opportunity for scammers and unlicensed contractors to take advantage of those who need help.
Dishonest contractors may try to profit by:
• Accepting payment then never completing (or even showing up for) the job.
• Using inferior materials or performing work that’s not up to code.
Red Flags to Watch For:
• Contractor shows up unsolicited.
• Points out damage you have not previously noticed.
• Asks for full payment up front and/or in cash only.
• Promises services at no charge to you or offers to waive your insurance deductible.
• Pressures you to encourage your family, friends, or neighbors to hire them for services.
• Offers you a discount for letting them use leftover materials from a previous job.
• Before hiring someone to make repairs, contact your insurance company to file your claim and ensure the damage is covered by your policy.
• Get itemized written estimates from at least three different licensed, insured contractors.
• Before you sign any paperwork and before a contractor starts work, allow your insurance company to come out and inspect the damages first.
• Work only with licensed and insured contractors.
Do not allow a contractor to inspect your property, including your roof, until you have verified that they are licensed and insured.