High Waters and High Costs: The Economics of Flood Damage from Hurricanes

Wednesday, May 15th, 2024

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 each year, with the peak months being August and September. These massive storms can unleash high winds, torrential rains, and storm surges that cause widespread destruction to coastal communities. Flooding from hurricanes poses a major economic threat, resulting in property damage, loss of business revenue, and strains on infrastructure. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the financial toll of flood damage from hurricanes.

Direct Property Damage

The most visible economic impact from hurricane flooding is the physical destruction it causes to homes, businesses, and infrastructure. According to the National Hurricane Center, storm surge and inland flooding account for over 50% of hurricane-related deaths and are responsible for a majority of hurricane damage costs.

Floodwaters can completely destroy buildings, warp structures, cause foundation cracks, contaminate interior spaces with water and debris, and ruin inventory and equipment. The damage is highly dependent on flood depth, velocity, and duration. Homes flooded with over 4 feet of water often require complete reconstruction down to the foundation and frame. Even an inch of water can cause tens of thousands of dollars in repairs and replacements of flooring, drywall, insulation, doors, cabinets, and more.

Rebuilding destroyed properties and repairing damaged buildings represents a significant expense for homeowners, businesses, and communities. The costs include materials, labor, permitting, demolition, mold remediation, floodproofing upgrades, landscape repairs, personal property losses, alternative living expenses during repairs, and much more.

Many homeowners face financial ruin after a major flood if they lack sufficient insurance, savings, or disaster aid to cover the repairs. Businesses also frequently tap lines of credit or retirement accounts to fund rebuilding. The capital spent on reconstruction diverts money away from new investments and growth.

Business Interruptions

Beyond direct property loss, hurricanes also cause major business interruptions. Necessary evacuations, flooded buildings, loss of utilities, and damaged inventory can shut down operations completely. Many businesses lack the cash reserves to withstand extended disruptions.

The hospitality industry takes an especially hard hit from decreased tourism and event cancellations during and after a hurricane. Hotels, restaurants, attractions, airports, cruise lines, and related businesses suffer steep revenue declines right when they need income the most to recoup storm losses. Retail, manufacturing, port operations, agriculture, and other sectors also face productivity losses and supply chain disruptions.

Business interruption insurance can help compensate companies for lost income and extra expenses incurred. But the claims process can be lengthy, and losses like market share declines often fall outside of coverage. Some insurers fight aggressively to minimize payouts. Ultimately, many businesses never reopen after a major hurricane, resulting in permanent job losses and a less vibrant local economy.

Infrastructure Damage

Flooding impairs critical infrastructure like roads, bridges, railroads, airports, seaports, marinas, pipelines, dams, levees, wastewater treatment plants, and power stations. The closure or limited operation of these vital services magnifies business interruptions across the entire local economy.

Repairing damaged infrastructure is extremely expensive given the scale and complexity of most systems. For example, some estimates put the total infrastructure damage in Florida from Hurricane Irma in 2017 at $50 billion. Government agencies must either divert funds from other budget items or take on debt to pay for repairs. That trade-off limits investments in new infrastructure to support growth.

Post-hurricane infrastructure projects also often get bogged down in delays from permitting, environmental reviews, litigation over contracts, and shortages of qualified labor. All the while, the unrepaired infrastructure causes ongoing economic disruptions. For instance, damaged ports force cargo rerouting, hurting international trade.

Loss of Tax Revenues

Hurricanes also shrink tax revenues due to reduced business activity and lower property values. Sales tax collections decrease with less discretionary spending by consumers and businesses. Tourism declines mean lower hotel occupancy and rental car taxes. Local gas taxes fall as people drive less.

Flood damage can prompt property tax reassessments and lower appraisals, shrinking this critical revenue source. Depressed home sales prices and stalled construction also drag down property tax growth. Some jurisdictions allow property tax exemptions for storm repairs.

These revenue losses come at the same time that hurricane response and rebuilding efforts swell government expenditures. Debris removal, infrastructure repairs, overtime pay for first responders, and shelters/temporary housing are just some of the extra public costs.

Consequently, state and local budgets get squeezed in the aftermath of a major hurricane. To prevent deep cuts to public services, tax hikes may be necessary to cover the budget gaps. But increasing tax rates can hamper economic competitiveness and growth.

Cascading Economic Impacts

The combined economic effects of physical destruction, disrupted business operations, stressed government budgets, and depleted household balance sheets reverberate across communities. Loss of jobs and wages reduces spending at local businesses. Home values and credit ratings fall. Insurers drop policies or hike rates.

Declining tax revenues lead to curtailed public services, deteriorating infrastructure, and higher local taxes. Construction labor shortages delay rebuilding. Investors and developers turn cautious, stifling growth.

These cascading impacts can slow broader economic growth and development for a decade or longer after a destructive hurricane. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans saw a major exodus of residents, capital, and investment that took years to reverse. Similar long-term ripples occur in most communities impacted by major hurricanes.

The Rising Costs of Hurricanes

As climate change fuels rising seas and more intense coastal storms, the financial costs inflicted by hurricane flooding will continue to grow. Urbanization of coastal areas is also expanding the amount of property at risk.  

The cost-benefit analysis makes clear that investing in resilient buildings, infrastructure, smarter development patterns, and natural buffers like wetlands now can help guard against astronomical flood damages down the road. Pursuing sustainability and adaptation strategies reduces vulnerability to the economic risks of inevitable future hurricanes.

Preparing for hurricanes just makes economic sense. But when a big storm does strike, our experienced legal team can help you recoup losses. If your property has been damaged by a hurricane and your insurance company refuses to pay, contact us today to discuss your options. With proper representation, you can avoid financial ruin and rebuild stronger for the future.

Visit our office at 200 Lake Morton Drive, Suite 300, Lakeland, FL 33801.

Or call us today for a free consultation on (833) 941-7867.

Assessing the Aftermath: Quantifying Hurricane Damage to Residential Structures

Tuesday, May 7th, 2024

Hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage to residential areas, leaving homes and communities in ruins. Assessing the extent of damage after a hurricane is crucial for recovery efforts. Quantifying hurricane destruction enables prioritization of rebuilding projects, estimation of costs, and application for disaster aid. This article examines methods for evaluating residential hurricane damage.

Visual Inspections

Initial damage assessments begin with on-the-ground visual inspections. Groups of building inspectors, engineers, and contractors systematically survey affected neighborhoods. They categorize each home on a damage scale from unaffected to totally destroyed. Visual inspections provide a rapid overall picture of community impact. However, they lack quantitative precision in estimating rebuilding costs. Visual assessments are supplemented with more detailed property evaluations.

Detailed Property Evaluations

Individual homes undergo comprehensive reviews to quantify hurricane damage. Engineers and claims adjusters inspect foundations, roofs, windows, doors, exterior finishes, interior rooms, and systems like HVAC and plumbing. Damage is documented through notes, photos, and videos. Evaluators determine repair needs and estimate material and labor costs for each component. Sophisticated software tools model buildings in 3D to calculate destruction. Detailed property evaluations provide accurate damage quantification but require more time and personnel.

Geospatial Analysis

Geospatial analysis using aerial imagery enhances damage assessment accuracy. Satellite photos and drone flyovers taken before and after a hurricane reveal impact geography. Comparing pre- and post-event images highlights changes like missing rooftops, debris piles, and flooding. Geospatial analysis scales beyond visual surveys to rapidly assess wide areas. However, it lacks inspection nuance in distinguishing between minor and severe damage. Multispectral analysis using infrared bands can partly overcome this limitation.

Integrated Assessment Approach

The most effective damage quantification combines multiple assessment techniques. Initial visual surveys rapidly identify the hardest hit areas. Detailed property evaluations provide accurate cost estimates for individual homes. Geospatial analysis fills the gaps between inspected structures. Integrated damage quantification directs resources toward the greatest needs for rebuilding homes and rehabilitating neighborhoods after hurricanes. Though it is time- and resource-intensive, rigorous assessment is necessary to support long-term disaster recovery.

Additional Challenges

Several additional factors complicate quantifying hurricane damage. Assessment is more difficult with extremely severe destruction that obliterates structures. Debris like downed trees and flooding must also be accounted for. The lack of pre-storm data makes comparing before and after tricky. Remote areas may receive less inspection due to access difficulties. Assessors require security in neighborhoods with post-disaster instability. Cultural and policy factors also influence damage interpretation and aid allocation based on assessments.

Assessing hurricane damage to residential buildings is vital but challenging. A multimodal approach using visual inspection, property evaluation, and geospatial analysis offers comprehensive quantification to guide rehabilitation. Methodical damage assessment facilitates obtaining recovery funding, prioritizing repairs, and rebuilding safer storm-resistant communities. Rigorous assessment accounting for on-the-ground realities can support equitable disaster recovery.

Filing Insurance Claims

Before rebuilding can begin, homeowners must file claims with insurers to recover repair and replacement costs. Policies may cover wind, flood, and other hurricane losses minus deductibles. Homeowners supply documentation including proof of residence, photos/video of damage, contractor repair estimates, and claims from previous storms. Insurers send adjusters to verify and quantify destruction. They determine covered losses and policy limits. For extensive damage, additional structural engineering inspections may be required. Processing claims can take weeks after hurricanes when demand soars.

Working with us can help expedite your insurance claim after a hurricane.

Visit our office at 200 Lake Morton Drive, Suite 300, Lakeland, FL 33801.

Call us today for a free consultation on (833) 941-7867.

Preparing for Hurricane Season: Tips to Minimize Storm Damage

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024

As hurricane season approaches, it’s crucial for homeowners to take proactive steps to protect their property and minimize potential storm damage. By implementing the following tips, you can safeguard your home and increase your chances of a smooth recovery in the event of a hurricane.

Create a Hurricane Preparedness Plan

  • Develop a family communication plan, including emergency contacts and meeting places
  • Identify the nearest hurricane shelter and evacuation routes
  • Stock up on essential supplies, such as non-perishable food, water, batteries, and first-aid kits
  • Keep important documents, such as insurance policies and identification, in a waterproof and portable container
  • Plan for pet safety, including securing necessary supplies and identifying pet-friendly shelters
  • Assign roles and responsibilities to family members to ensure everyone is prepared and knows what to do in an emergency

Protect Your Home’s Exterior

Secure Windows and Doors

  • Install storm shutters or impact-resistant windows to protect against high winds and flying debris
  • Reinforce garage doors with hurricane panels or bracing kits
  • Use weatherstripping and caulk to seal gaps and cracks around windows and doors
  • Consider installing reinforced entry doors to provide additional protection against strong winds

Maintain Your Landscaping

  • Trim trees and shrubs to reduce the risk of falling branches
  • Remove dead or dying trees that could pose a threat to your home
  • Secure outdoor furniture, decorations, and loose objects that could become projectiles in high winds
  • Clean up yard debris and dispose of it properly to prevent it from becoming hazardous during a storm
  • Ensure proper drainage in your yard to minimize the risk of flooding and erosion

Inspect and Fortify Your Roof

  • Have a professional assess your roof’s condition and make necessary repairs
  • Consider installing hurricane straps or clips to strengthen the connection between your roof and walls
  • Clear gutters and downspouts to ensure proper water drainage
  • Install roof underlayment or secondary water barriers for added protection against leaks
  • Secure loose shingles or tiles to prevent them from being torn off during high winds

Safeguard Your Home’s Interior

Prepare for Power Outages

  • Invest in a portable generator and learn how to use it safely
  • Keep flashlights, batteries, and a battery-powered radio on hand
  • Consider installing a backup battery system for essential appliances, such as refrigerators and medical equipment
  • Charge electronic devices and have extra battery packs available
  • Stock up on non-perishable food and bottled water in case of extended power outages

Protect Valuable Items

  • Move valuable items, such as electronics and artwork, to higher ground or a waterproof safe
  • Digitize important documents and store copies in a secure, off-site location
  • Consider purchasing flood insurance to protect your belongings from water damage
  • Take an inventory of your possessions, including photos and serial numbers, for insurance purposes
  • Pack a “go bag” with essential items, such as clothing and medications, in case you need to evacuate quickly
  • Create a hurricane kit containing a manual can opener, a whistle to call for help, and a fire extinguisher
  • Make sure you have cash at hand – during bad storms, power outages may limit access to ATMs and credit card machines.

Prepare for Flooding

  • Install check valves in plumbing to prevent sewage backups
  • Elevate appliances, such as water heaters and air conditioning units, above potential flood levels
  • Keep sandbags or alternative flood barriers on hand to divert water away from your home
  • Consider installing a sump pump with a backup power source to remove excess water
  • Familiarize yourself with your community’s flood evacuation routes and emergency procedures

Stay Informed and Connected

  • Monitor local news and weather reports for updates on the hurricane’s path and intensity
  • Sign up for emergency alerts from your local government or weather service such as the National Hurricane Center
  • Follow instructions from local authorities regarding evacuation orders or other safety measures
  • Keep a list of important contacts, including family members, friends, and local emergency services. Ask them to keep copies of important documentation if required
  • Establish a communication plan with out-of-area contacts who can relay messages if local lines are down
  • Stay connected with neighbors and community members to share resources and support one another

Review Your Insurance Coverage

  • Understand your insurance policy’s coverage for hurricane damage, including deductibles and limitations
  • Document your home’s condition and contents before the storm hits, using photos and videos
  • Keep records of any repairs or improvements made to your home
  • If your home sustains damage, contact your insurance company promptly to file a claim
  • Be prepared to provide evidence of damage and keep detailed records of all communication with your insurance company
  • Consider hiring an attorney to help you navigate the claims process and ensure you receive a fair settlement

In the aftermath of a hurricane, navigating insurance claims can be a daunting task. If you find yourself in a dispute with your insurance company over the extent of your coverage or the amount of your payout, it’s essential to seek experienced legal representation. Our law firm specializes in advocating for homeowners and negotiating with insurance companies to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. We understand the complexities of insurance policies and can help you fight for your rights as a policyholder.

Our team of skilled attorneys has a proven track record of success in handling hurricane damage claims. We work tirelessly to gather evidence, assess the extent of your losses, and negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf. With our expertise and dedication, you can focus on rebuilding your life while we handle the legal aspects of your claim.

Don’t let insurance companies take advantage of you during this challenging time. Contact us for more information on how we can help you recover from hurricane damage and protect your rights as a policyholder. Our compassionate and knowledgeable staff is here to guide you through every step of the process and ensure that you receive the maximum compensation available under your policy.

You can visit our office at 200 Lake Morton Drive, Suite 300, Lakeland, FL 33801.

Or call us today for a free consultation on (833) 941-7867.

Filing a Claim After a Storm: What to Do When Your Home is Damaged

Thursday, March 21st, 2024

No one wants to deal with the aftermath of a major storm, but unfortunately, it’s a reality many homeowners face. Whether it’s damage from high winds, heavy rain, hail, or a combination, the process of filing an insurance claim can be daunting. However, taking the right steps can help ensure you get the coverage you’re entitled to and get your home repaired as quickly as possible.

Here’s what to do when your home is damaged by a storm.

Document the Damage

The first and most important step is to thoroughly document all the damage to your home. This means taking detailed photos and videos, making notes about the extent and location of the damage, and keeping any receipts for emergency repairs or other expenses. The more comprehensive your documentation, the stronger your insurance claim will be.

It’s also a good idea to make a list of all damaged or destroyed items, including their age, purchase price, and estimated replacement cost. This will come in handy when you’re filing your claim.

Contact Your Insurance Provider

As soon as it’s safe to do so, contact your insurance company to report the damage and file a claim. Most providers have 24/7 hotlines or online reporting tools to make this process as easy as possible.

Start Emergency Repairs

In many cases, you’ll need to take immediate action to prevent further damage to your home. This could mean tarping a damaged roof, boarding up broken windows, or removing water from flooded areas.

Keep all receipts for the materials and labor used for these emergency repairs, as your insurance provider may reimburse you for those costs. Just be sure to get approval from your insurer before undertaking any major work.

Work with Your Adjuster

Once you’ve filed your claim, an insurance adjuster will be assigned to your case. They will inspect the damage to your home and provide an estimate of the repair costs.

When the adjuster arrives, have all your documentation ready. Walk them through the damage, point out any areas of concern, and provide your own estimate of the costs involved. The more information you can provide, the better.

If you disagree with the adjuster’s findings, don’t be afraid to negotiate or request a second inspection. Your insurance policy entitles you to a fair settlement, so stand your ground if you feel the initial offer is insufficient. Our team is here to help you resolve any claim issues.

Be Patient and Persistent

Filing an insurance claim after a major storm can be a lengthy and frustrating process. There may be delays, bureaucratic hurdles, and unexpected complications along the way. The key is to stay patient, persistent, and meticulous in your documentation.

Don’t hesitate to follow up with your insurance provider, request status updates, and push for a timely resolution. The more proactive you are, the better your chances of getting the coverage you deserve and restoring your home to its pre-storm condition.

Do you need help filing a property loss claim after a storm? Visit our office at the following address.

200 Lake Morton Drive, Suite 300, Lakeland, FL 33801.

Call us today for a free consultation on (833) 941-7867.

The Financial and Emotional Toll of Rebuilding After a Hurricane

Wednesday, February 21st, 2024

Hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage, leaving many without a home or possessions. The process of rebuilding is often long, and difficult, and takes a huge emotional and financial toll on those affected. This article will examine some of the key challenges faced when rebuilding after a hurricane.

Assessing the Damage

After a hurricane passes, the first challenge is assessing the extent of the damage. Homes may be partially or completely destroyed by high winds and flooding. Roofs may be torn off, windows shattered, and walls collapsed. Belongings are likely ruined by flood waters that fill homes with contaminated water full of debris. Furniture, appliances, clothes, family heirlooms, and more are often unsalvageable after sitting in foul flood waters. Vehicles parked in garages also often sustain damage from water and debris.

Initial insurance claims must be filed quickly, even if the full scope of damage is not yet known. Homeowners face the daunting task of painstakingly cataloging every damaged or destroyed item in their home, often without having any receipts or proof of ownership left. Pictures and whatever receipts they can gather help document destroyed possessions and property.

Finding Temporary Housing

Most hurricane victims are displaced from their homes for many months or even over a year while rebuilding takes place. Finding temporary housing options is difficult when entire communities are displaced all at once. Living cramped in a small rental apartment or hotel room is extremely difficult, especially for large families. The process of securing short-term housing, navigating insurance claims, finding reputable contractors, and starting repairs can be enormously frustrating.

Dealing with Insurance

Navigating the intricacies of complex insurance claims is often complicated and confusing after major hurricane damage. There are often delays in getting settlements as insurance companies are inundated with claims in the aftermath of widespread destruction. Homeowners need to carefully read policies, document every item lost, get multiple repair estimates, and provide endless paperwork to insurance providers. Additional living expense (ALE) coverage is supposed to pay for temporary housing, but reimbursement is often slow and inadequate. Fighting with insurance providers over proper settlements adds more stress during an already traumatic situation.

Finding Contractors for Repairs

With massive destruction to entire communities, there is huge demand and a limited supply of reputable, affordable contractors to repair and rebuild damaged homes. Even when insured for losses, finding a general contractor to manage the rebuilding process can take months. Subcontractors like electricians, plumbers, and roofers are often overloaded with work and in short supply after disasters. Homeowners may need to vet dozens of contractors before finding one able to take on their project at a fair price. This leads to delays of months or longer before rebuilding work can even start. There are also risks of being defrauded by unscrupulous contractors looking to make a quick buck off of vulnerable disaster victims. Even when an honest contractor is found, the quality of work may suffer when demand exceeds supply.

Paying for Repairs

Even with insurance settlements, homeowners often incur very high out-of-pocket costs to fully repair hurricane damage. Insurance deductibles easily run into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, and temporary housing costs add up quickly. Property damage often exceeds coverage maximums after a major disaster. Many families are forced to dig into savings and take out home equity loans or personal loans to cover the shortfall in rebuilding costs not fully compensated by insurance. The financial costs of repairs combined with the emotional toll of replacing all lost belongings are often crushing.

Rebuilding Takes Time

It typically takes a minimum of 6-12 months, if not years, for homes to be fully rebuilt and repaired after major hurricane destruction. Living displaced in cramped temporary accommodations, often far from jobs, schools, friends, and family, adds major stress and disruption. The many delays and frustrations with securing housing, fighting with insurance, finding contractors, and waiting months for work to start cause some to give up on rebuilding because it is just too hard. This prolonged displacement greatly affects employment, finances, mental health, family relationships, and education. Rebuilding after a disaster truly tests one’s endurance and perseverance.

Coping with Trauma

The trauma of surviving a life-threatening hurricane and losing one’s home and belongings can cause severe and lasting psychological effects. Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and PTSD are unfortunately very common after living through the horrors of a hurricane and its aftermath. The long, drawn-out stress of rebuilding takes a major toll both mentally and emotionally. Counseling is often needed to help process grief over lost loved ones and possessions and to cope with the trauma of surviving a disaster. The sense of safety and security in one’s home is often lost after surviving hurricane destruction. Nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, and uncontrollable anxiety are real possibilities for years after rebuilding.

Strain on Relationships

The numerous pressures, frustrations, grief, and trauma caused by rebuilding a life after hurricane destruction often severely strain personal relationships with spouses and loved ones. Displacement from homes, schools, and jobs puts people in an abnormal situation. Financial stress over making ends meet after a disaster causes strife. Grief and trauma can cause mental health issues that affect relationships. The strain of living in temporary lodging can be challenging. Major life decisions about rebuilding and relocating after a disaster often cause couples or families to clash and argue. Unfortunately, research shows rates of divorce, domestic violence, and child abuse increase significantly after major disasters such as hurricanes. The accumulated stress and challenges of rebuilding clearly damage close relationships.

Loss of Community

The community connections and support systems people relied on before the hurricane disaster are suddenly disrupted and lost. Friends, neighbors, and colleagues are forced to relocate to various temporary lodgings, often in different towns or even states. Favorite community places like libraries, churches, schools, and parks may be damaged or closed indefinitely. The shared experience of surviving disaster does create camaraderie and bonding between those rebuilding. But the normal web of community interactions that provide a sense of belonging, connection, and support is inevitably damaged and lost amidst the upheaval of rebuilding somewhere new. Reestablishing these critical community bonds and supports takes a great deal of time and effort.

Reconstructing a home, community, livelihood, and sense of security after surviving a catastrophic hurricane presents ongoing challenges for months or years. Insurance battles, displacement, shortage of affordable contractors, financial stress, trauma, strained relationships, and loss of community all commonly occur. Some days, the emotional and financial toll of rebuilding can seem endless. But the human spirit is remarkably resilient.

If you need legal help dealing with home insurers or contractors, please contact our law firm today. We’re here to help you receive fair compensation and pursue the resources you need to recover and rebuild your life after a hurricane disaster.

You can visit our office at 200 Lake Morton Drive, Suite 300, Lakeland, FL 33801 or call for a free consultation on (833) 941-7867.