As most of us know, June 1 was the beginning of the Atlantic Hurricane Season. Experts are again predicting a “highly active” year, and some opine that more than ten major hurricanes are possible. Coincidently, June 1 also came with significant changes to the laws regarding property insurance in Florida. As Jeremy Tyler mentioned on Monday, even the statute of limitations for filing a property damage lawsuit has been changed to five years from the date of the storm.
Knowing and understanding the statute of limitations is extremely important for associations, however, there are other new deadlines imposed by the recently implemented Senate Bill 408. Failing to report a claim may be grounds for a denial of benefits by an association’s insurer, despite the fact that it was brought within the statute of limitations mandated five years.
In regards to reporting requirements for hurricane damage claims, the new law provides:
Effective June 1, 2011: A claim, supplemental claim, or reopened claim under an insurance policy that provides property insurance, as defined in s. 624.604, for loss or damage caused by the peril of windstorm or hurricane is barred unless notice of the claim, supplemental claim, or reopened claim was given to the insurer in accordance with the terms of the policy within 3 years after the hurricane first made landfall or the windstorm caused the covered damage.
For purposes of this section, the term – supplemental claim or ―reopened claim means any additional claim for recovery from the insurer for losses from the same hurricane or windstorm which the insurer has previously adjusted pursuant to the initial claim.
While all insurance policies require notice of a loss to be provided, an insurer generally cannot refuse payment of a claim based on a late notice defense unless it can show that its investigation was somehow prejudiced. With the enactment of the new property insurance laws, Florida associations should be very mindful of the three year reporting deadline now required. Failing to do so, may result in the denial of a valid claim.
The important lesson for associations is to report claims early, even if the damage seems minimal. If you think there is a possibility of damage to your property, contact your broker, agent, or insurer as soon as possible and let them know.
Aside from filing a claim immediately, an association should hire its own experts to determine the extent of damages and the costs of repair. Insurance adjusters and experts are often overworked after a large hurricane and may not take the time to fully and properly investigate your loss.
Finally, if you disagree with your insurer’s determination of damage or the amount of loss, you should let them know immediately and take steps to rectify the dispute. Waiting to request that the claim be re-opened may result in a bar to recovery under the new law, as it applies to all claims — including supplemental and re-opened.