If you are unfortunate enough to suffer storm damage to your house – such as a hit from a fallen tree, or even worse, tornado damage, what happens? How can we help? We’ll answer both questions here, unfortunately the answer to the second question is not so good.
Typically your insurance company will send out an adjuster to assess the damage. In many cases they send out an engineer to further evaluate what repairs have to be made. If you have a good insurance company, they will determine the extent of the damage, and the cost to repair it. They will then settle the claim, and usually they pay the contractor. The problem is if you have a bad insurance company. Then they will send out an adjuster, and the adjuster will minimize the damage, and try to avoid paying for everything that happens. The often will follow up with an engineer that will do the same.
Let me give an example – let’s say a tree hits your house, and shakes it. A certain portion of your house definitely has damage, there is a big hole in your roof. However, your doors now don’t shut, there are cracks throughout your house in the drywall, and there are cracks in the veneer on your house. A less ethical insurance company will possibly pay you for the hole in the roof, but refuse to pay for the remaining damage. They may even bring out an engineer to say that the remaining damage had nothing to do with the storm and was pre-existing. I met an engineer at an engineering society meeting that provided precisely this service to insurance companies, and he was quite proud of himself. Personally, I felt like taking a shower after talking to him, but I guess we all have different standards.
I have seen a few cases where the adjuster comes out, and tells the homeowner to get an engineer to evaluate the damage. This seems to work out pretty well. In the jobs we’ve taken like this, the insurance company accepted our assessments.
What can we do for you?
Sometimes your insurance company will tell you to call an engineer if you disagree with their assessment. The idea would be that you will get a report from someone like us, and they will then reconsider their decision and maybe settle your claim with more money. In reality, it almost never happens that way. What will happen is you will pay someone like us to come out and look at your house, and you will forward the report to your insurance company. They will blow off your report by having the engineer they hire basically say the engineer you hired doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. They may even have their engineer meet your engineer, and then their engineer can further insult your engineer face to face.
You can of course sue your insurance company, but we’re usually talking damages of maybe $20,000 to $30,000 or so, which is probably a lot to you (it is to me). However, it can cost you about $100,000 to go to court with all the depositions, expert witnesses, and legal research. Your insurance company knows that. What do you do? You can go to your state insurance commission, but they almost always side with the insurance company. You can consult a lawyer anyway, and maybe use that to scare the insurance company into giving you more money.
So, we generally won’t take a job where you want to dispute what your insurance company has decided. In my career, I’ve only seen two where the insurance company has given in. The first one was with a good insurance company (the same one that I have on my house). I did my report, and they sent their engineer out to the house, and we examined things together and worked what needed to be done. The second one was where the homeowner and I contacted the local TV station. After the insurance company found out they were being featured on the evening news, they sent a new engineer out to look at things. The engineer was from a very good forensic engineering firm, and coincidentally was the same engineer I met on the other project. Again, we both evaluated the damage and came to an agreement right before the piece was aired on the news.
If your insurance company has told you that you need an engineer to evaluate the damage, we will be happy to help you. However, we cannot guarantee that they will agree with what we say, and they may decide the damage is much less than what we assess. Sometimes it’s a legitimate difference in opinion, other times they will be trying to cut what they have to pay, we have no control over that.
Unfortunately, unethical insurance companies is one of the problems that we as homeowners have to deal with, and there is not a really good solution if you get caught in this situation.