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SuperStorm Sandy Bad Faith Insurance Claims

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New York, NYIn Part 4 of our series on SuperStorm Sandy Scams, we’re focusing on insurance claims for business--small businesses in particular. Rotting stock, no electricity, damaged buildings, roads and infrastructure, can spell huge financial losses for business owners. Sorting out your insurance claim only adds to the headaches in many cases, and in some cases, could end up as bad faith insurance lawsuits.

Proper documentation is critical in making a successful insurance claim. Photograph every item that is damaged or has to be discarded, before you get rid of it --everything without exception. Record your losses, make a note of serial numbers, and make copies of inventory records.

Next, comes contacting your insurer--getting in line for an adjuster. Given the scope of damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, insurance companies may not have enough staff on the ground to process all the claims expeditiously. For example, a report by CNNMoney states that Liberty Mutual has 60 adjusters in the New York area who are physically inspecting 1,500 claims. They expect to visit all businesses in the area within the next two weeks.

However, if two weeks is one week too long for some businesses, hiring a contract adjuster may seem like a reasonable option. In their report, CNNMoney points out that this could be a risky strategy. In their interview with Ervin Gonzalez, a South Florida attorney who fought against builders and insurers for shoddy practices after 1992's Hurricane Andrew, Gonzalez said that there aren't enough adjusters in the New York area, so thousands of them will travel from across the country looking for work. “Some will overcharge, taking 20% or more of what an insurer will eventually pay -- much higher than the 10% cap for residential properties in states like Florida.

Gonzalez also warned that independent adjusters who land contract work for insurers have incentive to offer business owners less than what their loss is worth, because these contractors want the insurer to hire them again.” (CNN) Gonzalez said that happened after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Hurricane Andrew in Miami.

Settling an insurance claim can also be problematic. Many of the buildings in New Jersey and New York are old, and this could be a factor in assigning blame for damage. This was the case for an attorney in Miami, Philippe Lieberman, who told CNN that he went to great trouble to prove that his client’s two strip malls in Florida, which were damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, were actually damaged by the storm and not by wear and tear. "I don't envy New Yorkers," Lieberman told CNN. "They should expect a difficult and exhausting process."

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