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Why victims of recent flooding should get a lawyer

Elected officials throughout the northeastern region that was damaged by Super Storm Sandy marked the third anniversary of the storm's landfall Oct. 29. They reflected on the resiliency of the residents, many of whom lost or experienced severe damage to their homes only to find out that the end of the storm was not the end of their misery. Countless residents cannot comprehend why their insurance companies underpaid their storm-damage claim.

Super Storm Sandy victims are not alone. This tiresome tale plays out across the country all year, every year. For instance, there are people living in recently flood-ravaged parts of Texas who also, in an unfortunately ironic turn of phrase, are in the same boat.

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez discussed the horrors that some of his constituents experienced, during and after Sandy, in Menendez's Oct. 29 address on the Senate floor.

A former Marine and New Jersey resident named Doug told the senator this, according to the speech: "I was in my home the night the floodwaters rushed in. I waded out through waist deep water at midnight to escape while electrical transformers exploded and houses burned down. That was the easy part. It's the year-and-a-half since then that has been the tragedy."

How could the aftermath of Sandy be so treacherous? As the senator put it, "Doug had maximum coverage of $250,000 and received estimates of up to $254,000 in damages, but he received only $90,000 - just over a third of what he needed to rebuild. And Doug was not alone."

The senator got to the point, saying, "Thousands of New Jerseyans were low-balled by their insurance company, stunting the recovery and leaving families out of their homes."

A side story is the skyrocketing premiums that typically follow the low-balling of a claim.

Every time this common insurance company script is dusted off and performed - whether it was in Sandy's path three years ago or several times more recently in Texas and elsewhere - there is a persuasive argument for acquiring legal representation before dealing with an insurance company. Particularly when an insurance company operates in bad faith, you need a lawyer to fight for your rights. It's that simple. Having a lawyer involved from the beginning can be wise move.

Bad faith insurance is when the insurance company does not treat the claimant fairly:

  • Denying a valid claim
  • Unreasonably delaying payment
  • Insurance company's adjuster, looking out for the company's interest instead of the victim's entitlement, under-valuing the adjustment
  • Offering to settle with the claimant for less than the claim is worth
  • Failing to pay a judgment against the claimant from a lawsuit that the insurance policy requires the insurance company to defend

Bad faith insurance is not just a Super Storm Sandy story. This is an American story that plays out with insurance companies nationwide, which is the reason that the bad faith insurance attorneys at Reich & Binstock represent insurance claimants anywhere in the U.S.

If you think this sort of thing won't happen to you, consider what Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration Deputy Associate Administrator Brad Kieserman told a House Financial Services subcommittee June 2. He was explaining to Congress the reason the National Flood Insurance Program has been necessary.

"Floods remain the number one natural disaster in the United States, causing an average of four billion dollars a year in insurance claims between 2003 and 2012," Kieserman testified. "Millions of Americans are physically and financially vulnerable to floods. Floodplains exist throughout America - many of them in places that are economically important to our nation. Moreover, floodplains are not the only places in America that flood. People outside of mapped high-risk flood areas file nearly 25 percent of all National Flood Insurance Program flood insurance claims and receive one-third of federal disaster assistance for flooding."

Federal figures show that Florida leads the nation with 1,855,353 NFIP policies in force, as of the end of August. Texas was second with 592,272 policies. Nevertheless, insurance companies underpay claims across the country, not solely where a lot of flood insurance policies are in place. And the insured - whether they have a flood insurance claim, home insurance claim, or auto accident claim - should take the prudent step of hiring an attorney to protect their interests.

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