While many may question the wisdom or judgment of those who chose to shelter in place as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma battered the southeastern US, some cited their desire to avoid looters as the primary motivation behind sheltering in their homes. Indeed, when entire neighborhoods have been evacuated and residents who remain are secured behind boarded-up windows, this can provide a ripe picking ground for opportunists and others who lack any scruples about looting a hurricane-damaged (or simply vacant) home.
Read on to learn more about your legal options if you return from a mandatory evacuation to discover that your home has been damaged not by gale-force winds, but by burglars and looters instead.
How can you determine the cause of damage to your home?
In some cases, the precise cause of damage may be clear, whether a tree lying atop your roof or the lack of a roof altogether. However, in other cases, it may be difficult to discern whether your belongings have been strewn around your home as a result of high winds or have been rummaged through in a frantic search for valuables.
Depending upon the workload of your local police force and the extent of storm-related damage in the surrounding areas, you may want to notify law enforcement before you put too much effort into the cleanup process; police are often able to spot signs of looting that homeowners may overlook. If you have been looted, generating a police report can help you when the time comes to submit an insurance claim.
What are your legal options if your home has been looted?
In some cases, you may actually be "better off" having had your home looted than damaged in a natural disaster, especially if you don't have flood insurance (or have an ultra-high deductible). Looting, like burglary, is covered under your general homeowners' insurance policy, while flood damage or hurricane damage may be covered under a separate rider, often with a separate deductible. If you lack flood insurance, you could find yourself without any financial recourse for water-related damage your home has suffered; but if this water-related damage can be directly attributed to the acts of those who broke into your home, you may still be able to submit this claim to your insurance company.
If you're facing extensive damage or your insurance company has been fairly unresponsive so far, you may want to go ahead and enlist the help of an attorney through services like Law Offices of Jeremy W McKey. Roping in legal counsel early in the claims submission process can help ensure your insurance company has all the documentation it needs to make an informed decision, and will let you quickly appeal any ruling (or file a lawsuit to seek enforcement of your insurance policy) if you run into pushback when it comes to having your damage repaired.