October 14, 2013
Insurance coverage still possible for flood victims even without flood insurance
By Peter Jakel
BOULDER - Painful images of flood waters ravaging Colorado's Front-Range communities remain seared in the minds of many residents. Flood victims from Boulder to Estes Park could only watch as flood waters consumed their homes, cars and personal belongings.
With the water now receding in many parts of the state, the devastation is becoming even more real for affected residents, who now face a daunting task - picking up what's left and rebuilding.
Unfortunately, rebuilding is complicated by the fact that many Colorado residents did not carry flood insurance on their homes, and government funds will most likely fall short of covering the full cost of the damage to their properties. What many residents don't know is that their home insurance policy may still pay for certain claims even without flood insurance.
"Insurance policies are complex documents that typically require a detailed review by someone who has a lot of experience and knowledge in the way that they work to determine what, if any, coverage applies to a specific situation," said George V. Berg Jr., managing and founding partner of Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti, LLP, a Boulder-based law firm.
Insurance coverage depends on the policy and the facts surrounding how and why water entered the resident's property. Many policies contain language that seems to exclude coverage for water damage or flooding. However, what constitutes water damage or flooding may very well depend on how the policy is specifically worded, according to Berg.
"Most people trust their insurance agent or company to pick the policy and coverage that is right for them," Berg said. "This means that a lot of people are not familiar with the exact coverage that they may or may not have when it comes to water damage."
Experts are often needed to evaluate the damage and determine the actual source or sources of water intrusion. Policy holders are often quick to report flood damage not knowing that the insurance company may deny coverage before a full investigation can be completed. To protect their rights, affected residents need to understand their policy provisions and the underlying cause of the water intrusion, according to Berg.
In addition, insurance companies, which are overwhelmed with claims during natural disasters, may at times deny claims because they don't have all of the facts. Many Colorado flood victims have already been denied in writing by their insurance providers.
"Questioning an insurance denial and getting help to analyze these complicated insurance issues is an absolute necessity in order to protect your rights," Berg said.
Water damage may actually be the result of a covered event such as the failure of plumbing components, like sump pumps, drains or gutters. Many policies cover this type of damage. Flood victims should accurately and completely report these facts to their insurance carriers or, at the very least, inform the insurance company that they do not know the cause or source of the water intrusion.
Even if it is ultimately determined that there is no coverage under their own policy, and the insurance company has properly denied coverage, there may be other sources of financial recovery. Water intrusion may be attributable to third parties, such as adjacent property owners, if their failure to maintain their property caused the water to flow onto your property. Other times, water damage can be the result of improper construction methods.
In instances of commercial or rental properties, the landlord may also bear some responsibility for the damage experienced by its tenants and vise versa. Many people may find some monetary compensation from FEMA, the State of Colorado, non-profit groups or charities.
"Asking someone else that is familiar with insurance policy interpretation is essential when facing questions like the ones that are facing Colorado residents right now," Berg said.
Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti LLP is hosting a free informational community town hall meeting that will explain these insurance coverage issues in more depth. The meeting will be held on Monday, October 14, 2013 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the University of Colorado, Wolf Law Building, Wittemeyer Courtroom. Please RSVP to Kim Strasburger at 303-402-1600. A video of the meeting will also be available afterwards at www.bhgrlaw.com.