Your Home or Business Flooded - So What's Next?

Experienced Attorneys in Texas

It has been years since Texas experienced the type of flooding we saw in May. Texans are still picking up the pieces, and the damages to Texas homeowners and businesses are estimated to be in the billions of dollars. Damages range from minimal cosmetic issues to complete losses; some Texans are still recovering from watching their homes flood or worse. Businesses were hammered as well, resulting in disruption or complete shutdowns.

For those homeowners and businesses who have flood insurance, most policies are controlled by the National Flood Insurance Program (“NFIP”) administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”). And as you might imagine, NFIP has special rules for making claims.

How do I make a claim? You must first fill out a proof of loss with your insurer. Typically, the deadline to file proof of loss forms is 60 days. However, given the extensive flooding, FEMA extended the deadline to 240 days. You can read FEMA’s letter here, which explains the basis for the extension.

What else should you do if your home or business flooded? Most of these tips are obvious, but make sure you properly document the claim, and keep safety first.

  1. Make sure your belongings are out of the water, and cleaned. Flood water is often contaminated with dangerous bacteria. Properly washing clothes, dishes, and other items that you will come in close physical contact with is essential. Disinfect everything with bleach, or hot water. The internet is an excellent resource for figuring out how to disinfect different household products. Make sure you spend some time cleaning those things that came in contact with flood water that you intend to use again.
  2. Make sure you have shut off the gas and electricity if all or part of your home or business have standing water. Be very careful around any exposed cables or wiring, as these may pose electrocution hazards. If you have questions about how to do this, please call your service providers before trying to do anything yourself!
  3. Try to make an itemized list of things that were damaged or lost. Be as complete as you can. There is no magic to the process –just write these things down. Talk to friends and family members to help you ensure the list is complete. If you have an idea of what the items cost, where you bought them, or when you made the purchase, note that as well.
  4. Call your insurance agent right away. This person will let you know if you have flood insurance, and what the applicable limits are. In many cases, the most you can recover is $250,000, but there are some exceptions. Your agent will know more.
  5. Perhaps the most important part - take photos and/or video of the damage to your home. Document as much as you can. Pictures and video are your best evidence of the extent of the loss. Make sure you photograph structures, interior, and exterior, items that are no longer “useable,” and do as good a job as you can getting it all documented. In this age of smart phones, the cameras are quite useful, and do a perfectly fine job of documenting losses.
  6. Clean up, and put your life back together. Insurance companies call this “mitigation.” Make sure you are doing everything you can to make your situation better, not worse. This includes making sure your surroundings are safe. If you need to hire someone to make temporary fixes before insurance can cover a loss, do so. Do not wait to put your life back together.
  7. Keep a good file of everything you have documented for the insurer. Document your telephone calls with them, and what they say – we promise you, they do, too! That means keeping track of the time, date, and general substance of your conversation. If you send them material, make a note of how and when you sent the material, and make sure you receive confirmation of the insurer’s receipt.
  8. For other helpful information on filing your flood claim under a Standard Flood Insurance Policy, click here.
  9. If you have a Standard Flood Insurance Policy, you will need to file a Proof of Loss with your insurance company. The Proof of Loss and all required supporting documentation must be filed within 240 days of the flood for victims of the May 2015 storms in Texas. This is required before the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or insurance company will issue any payment. Click here to learn more about the required Proof of Loss and to download the form.
  10. An adjuster will come visit your home to inspect the damage – this person does not work for you or represent you. Their job is to assess the damage for the insurer. The adjuster will rely on you to provide complete and accurate information concerning the loss. Make sure you do as thorough a job as you can in pointing out all damage, and the complete scope of your loss. The adjuster will also conduct a physical in inspection of the property – that’s quite normal.
  11. If you disagree with the amount of damage found by the insurance company’s adjuster or the amount the insurance company is paying you for your damage, do not sign the proof of loss attesting to those damages. If you have doubts about it, don’t sign it. You are free to hire third party contractors or professionals that can help you determine whether the proof of loss is complete/accurate. Keep in mind, by signing a Proof of Loss, you are swearing that the information provided is true and correct. For flood claims from the May 2015 storms in Texas this must all be done within 240 days of the flood.
  12. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, contact the lawyers at Daly & Black, P.C.