TC Palm Q&A Column, December 17, 2017

By December 17, 2017News, Questions & Answers

Editor’s note: Attorneys at Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, respond to questions about Florida community association law.  The firm represents community associations throughout Florida and focuses on condominium and homeowner association law, real estate law, civil litigation, estate planning and commercial transactions.

Q: I am a newly elected board member of our community’s condominium association.  As a result of Hurricane Irma we experienced substantial damages.  We are in the midst of dealing with the insurance claims process.  Is there a guide or check list which is available to make sure we as board members are properly doing our job in the handling of our insurance claim?

D.D., Stuart, Florida

A: Handling hurricane damage insurance claims involves numerous moving parts, the coordination of which is extremely important.  In this instance, the goal is to ensure that the condominium association obtains the most that it can under its insurance policies in order to pay for damage that occurred as a result of Hurricane Irma.  In our experience, a very important first step is for the board of directors to put in place a focused team of individuals and professionals to work hand-in-glove with the association to help guide them through the insurance claims process.  

Among the most important professional member of the team is qualified legal counsel who has prior experience representing associations in insurance claims matters.  An experienced attorney will be able to properly determine the scope of the damages, analyze the insurance policies which provide coverage for the damages experienced, consult with qualified contractors to assist in estimating and repairing the damage, and act as an advocate for the association throughout the claims process.  The attorney will report to the board of directors, which in turn can make decisions based on the attorney’s recommendations.  

Once legal counsel is hired, he or she can work with the association, including consulting with and hiring professionals, such as public adjusters, construction managers, engineers, architects, general contractors, lenders, and accountants.  Depending upon the scope of the damages suffered by the association, the retention of a public adjuster is probably the most important next step in the process of assembling the association’s team.   Public Adjusters are persons and companies who have worked in the insurance industry and carry with them the knowledge and experience to work with the attorney and client in order to identify, document and quantify the nature and extent of the damages.

Prior to and after the association assembles its team, documentation of the damages, including taking photographs, is a crucial step in the process.  Insurance companies will attempt to deny claims for numerous reasons delineated in the policy, and having proper documentation showing the condition of the property prior to and post-hurricane is important.  In the event repairs are needed on an emergency basis, placing the insurance company on notice as soon as possible is of paramount importance and will help counter potential coverage disputes on those grounds.  

As to damage to the interior of the buildings and individual condominium units, unit owners should be placed on notice that they must document such damage to the interior of their units.  Although the Condominium Act allocates which components of the condominium property and the interior of the condominium units are to be included in the association’s and unit owner’s insurance policies, some components of the interior of the unit may fall within the scope of the condominium associations insurance obligations.  The important point to remember is that  proper documentation of the damages to the unit interiors will allow resolution of such disputes to move more smoothly.

Although in a perfect world the association’s insurance company will pay for all the damages with no argument, the reality is that that they will not always do so willingly and having a team to assist and advocate for you through the process is of paramount importance.  

Ronald E. D’Anna, Esq., is Partner of the Law Firm Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross.  Ask questions about your issues for future columns, send your inquiry to: question@gadclaw.com.  The information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  The publication of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, or any of our attorneys.  Readers should not act or refrain from acting based upon the information contained in this article without first contacting an attorney, if you have questions about any of the issues raised herein.  The hiring of an attorney is a decision that should not be based solely on advertisements or this column.