Following the passage of a hurricane or tropical storm, policyholders should photograph or video record hurricane-related damage to insured property as soon as possible. The more detail the better. Photographs of the condition of the roof system immediately after a hurricane can be particularly helpful in the insurance claim for damages. The photographs can capture the condition of the damaged property immediately after the storm’s passage and can be used to potentially refute arguments that the hurricane was not the cause of the damage. The importance of the photographic evidence ties in with the discussions that Jeremy Tyler and I have had over the last several weeks in the “Late Notice of the Claim” postings.
Generally, policyholders are not familiar with their rights under their insurance policies, and may not be familiar with structural damage related to hurricanes. For instance, a policyholder may notice some broken, missing, shifted, or cracked roof tiles after a hurricane and think that the damage is only limited to those affected tiles. He may have someone perform a minor repair to the affected tiles and take no photographs. Down the road when that policyholder files a claim with the insurance carrier, he will be asked if there is any photographic evidence of the damages claimed. When that documentation is not produced, particularly in a late filed hurricane claim, carriers deny the claims citing “foot traffic” as a cause for extensive roof tile damage. This is particularly the case where the insurance carrier discovers, through the policyholder’s testimony, that there have been power washing companies on the roof since the hurricane.
“Foot traffic,” an insurance carrier’s explanation for extensive tile damage spread over several areas of the roof, can be refuted by providing pictures or videos of the damages to those areas following the hurricane. Additionally, the pictures or videos can help to reveal a broken bond between the roof tiles and the roof decking. The forces of the wind during a hurricane can bend and flex the plywood beneath the tiles, causing the failure of the bond between the tiles and the deck.
The pictures could even reflect specific areas of the roof that are still well-bonded and show no signs of damage. This can be important to refute arguments that the cause of de-bonding tiles is an installation defect issue with the roof as a whole and not caused by the hurricane.
If there is one thing we learned from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons in Florida and litigation that has ensued, it is shoot pictures first and ask questions later.