Hurricane Andrew took 69 lives and caused more than $42 billion in damage in 2011 dollars.
"I live in a place where the threat of hurricane is always there," says Garfinkel, who has lived his whole life in Florida.
That lawyer, who came through one of the only three category 5 storms to hit the US, has gone on to become a prominent insurance and natural disaster law attorney who has helped tens of thousands of Americans after floods, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes and hurricanes have tossed and put their lives asunder.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature seems to have one temper tantrum after another. There were once-in-a-century floods in the Midwest this year and Arizona is now being hit with wildfires.
The usual first reaction from homeowners once they know their family is safe, says Garfinkel, is "Am I covered?"
"What is happening at a typical disaster is assessments are being made and claims are being submitted," says Garfinkel, with a knowing way that comes from years of dealing with these issues.
"Then the insurance company tries to resolve the disputes, but there is a little bit of a conflict there because the insurance company has to report to its stock holders. The company wants to make a profit but it also has a duty to see things are handled correctly for the people," he adds.
Garfinkel has built a very successful law practice on helping people "crack a system that routinely denies or underpays claims."
"It's a challenge," says Garfinkel. "I have been in homes where I can see straight through to the sky and the insurance company says there is nothing wrong. I have received checks to resolve the whole claim for $7 and change!"
"So I have seen efforts by insurance companies to settle claims for pennies on the dollar, so what I would also recommend to anybody that is dealing with an extraordinarily sophisticated insurance company is to make sure they get a second opinion," says Garfinkel.
More and more Americans live in condominiums or communities governed by Home Owner Associations (HOAs). "Just as you as a home owner needs to know what you are covered for, so does the condo owner."
Condo owners are typically responsible to insure themselves "from the drywall in," explains Garfinkel.
"Then there is a master policy for the rest that the board of directors is obligated to secure on your behalf," says Garfinkel. "Instead of dealing with an individual policy you are dealing with a master policy covering all the common elements of the community."
Whether you own a home or are part of a condominium, Garfinkel's best advice after two decades of representing people affected by natural disasters is to review your insurance policy before the wind begins to blow or the ground starts to shake.
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And—he adds, since insurance companies will often argue that the hole in the roof was already there before the storm, take pictures, lots of pictures of everything.
Alan Garfinkel is a graduate of the Florida State University, Mercer Law School. His firm has won numerous multi-million awards on behalf of insurance policy holders as individuals and as HOAs. He has authored many articles and is a sought-after speaker on issues regarding natural disaster law, insurance and construction defects. His firm also sponsors a "Boot Camp" for members of condo association boards and HOAs.