Q: I live on the bay in Nassau County and have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Water has flooded the basement and first floor of our home, ruining everything. Our two cars, which were parked in the driveway will not start due to the high levels of salt water that surged into our neighborhood during the high tide. Additionally, a neighbor’s tree crashed through our detached garage. While my family and I are cleaning slowly, we want to be sure that we are doing things in the proper order. What do we need to know?
A: Undoubtedly, the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy will cost billions of dollars to repair. The repair bill will include property damage caused by flood waters from rain and tidal surges, wind damage from wind itself and wind-borne debris, and damage from fallen trees.
While you may begin cleaning up to restore some sense of normalcy to your home and lives, you must first document the damage by taking photographs or videos of the damage. When cell service has been restored, report the damage to your insurance carrier as soon as possible. Your carrier will initiate a claim and an adjuster may come to view the damage. Sometimes, when the damage is as extensive as it is with this storm, claims can be settled on photos alone, so, take plenty of pictures.
In the case of flood damage caused by tidal surges, flood insurance provides the only coverage. Regular homeowner’s insurance will not cover this. Flood insurance is a separate policy, administered by the federal government for which a separate premium is paid. Conversely, flooding from excessive rain water is covered by homeowners’ policies subject to your deductible. Damage from wind and flying debris is also covered, but some policies increase the deductible to a percentage of your total coverage in the case of Category 1 storms, so when reporting a claim, make sure you ask the broker or adjuster what the deductible for your claim will be. This will depend on your area and the storm category for your location.
The car damage must be reported to your auto liability carrier.
Finally, if there is damage to your property resulting from a neighbor’s tree, your neighbor has no liability unless there was actual or constructive knowledge of the defective condition of the tree. This means that before the storm, the danger of the tree falling has to be obvious due to visible signs of rot, decay, or broken or dangerously overhanging branches. This element of knowledge or notice can also be established if you wrote a letter to your neighbor about the dangers created by dying or decayed trees, or other unstable structures. But the letter has to precede the event. As for the future, if your neighbor’s tree looks threatening, write them a letter – now!
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