Imagine your home in shambles. No flooring throughout the house, rain leaking through the roof and a makeshift bedroom in your dining room, leaving you with a shell of a home. Imagine living in this nightmare for months while mold silently grows and spreads through your home and belongings, not to mention the toll it will take on your health. Now, add sleeping in your car for six-weeks during a Florida summer. All the while telling yourself it will all be over soon but only hitting dead ends. This is Ms. Anne Hall’s story of dealing with her insurance company in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. One that led her to call on Noble to intervene to change the path of her hurricane insurance claim as well her life.
Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle on October 10, 2018, causing mass devastation from Mexico Beach to Panama City Beach, which also serves as home to Noble’s headquarters. The storm produced wind gusts as high as 164 mph and is the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the United States, leaving thousands of homes damaged in its wake. It’s been nearly two-years since the storm, and while many are fortunate to have their homes fully repaired, there are plenty of homeowners still waiting on their insurance claims and trying to get their homes rebuilt. Despite the long, drawn-out battle she’s been through she is finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Due to a mandatory evacuation, Ms. Hall wasn’t able to return to her house for two-weeks after the storm passed. Upon returning, she noticed damage to the property as a tree had fallen and water was leaking from the chimney into the garage and immediately filed a claim with her insurance company. As an 83-year-old with health issues, she was unable to assess all the damages herself. She fully expected them to help in her greatest time of need by conducting a thorough inspection of the property for damages. That’s not what happened, and unfortunately this type of thing is a common occurrence on the insurance company’s side. After all, there’s no incentive to uncover anything that’s not obvious, as the less discovered the less there is to cover in the settlement.
The Claim & Initial Position
The insurance adjuster showed up for the inspection and proceeded to only check the perimeter. He simply took a look at the few things that she had pointed out. That was it! He left without bothering to go inside the house to check for damages, despite the fact there was a water leak which can cause more damage if not addressed (and it did). She later found out the adjuster had claimed that he was denied entry inside the house, which of course was simply not true. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the adjuster attempted to use it as a reason to deny coverages!
Before his swift exit on that inspection, she inquired about what she should do in the case of rain, to which he replied, “just do what you can to stop the water, we’ll have to wait for the inspection to come back before anything can be done.” Of course the storms inevitably came and blew off the tarps she was able to get placed on the roof, and they still refused to pay for a permanent fix while waiting for the inspection results to come back. She waited… and waited. It finally came back in December, two months after the storm.
The initial position for the claim was $10,700, however, once the deductible and depreciation were applied, she received a check for a whopping $410, which is in no way enough to cover a fraction of the damage incurred. If you’d asked the insurance company, the claim was settled in their eyes. To add more salt to the wound, she already spent close to $40,000 out of her own pocket just to remove the fallen tree, put on a new roof and fix the screened-in porch, fully expecting to be reimbursed. “It was unreal!” said Hall. “I never knew an insurance company would do anything like what they’ve done to me.”
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
At her wits end and completely fed up with how she’d been treated, she was at a standstill. Would she be able to recover the money and ever get her house back together? She didn’t know where to go next, but there was a glimmer of hope while browsing her neighborhood’s online community forum. There was information posted about Noble’s services and how we can help with insurance claim issues. After learning more she said, “I told my insurance company I couldn’t deal with them anymore. I called Noble in December and was signed up with them in January.” That’s when everything started to change for the better.
Noble’s Findings & Position
Anytime you have water in your home, it’s never a good thing! Knowing that water had been leaking inside for the last four months, Noble immediately scheduled an air quality test that should have been done at the onset of her claim. It was discovered that category 3 water was in the home and caused a high content of mold spores to start growing over time. Category 3 water is contaminated water that penetrates the membrane of a roof, insulation and drywall and enters into a house. “Once it goes through all those things everything it touches will be contaminated,” said Susan McGee, Noble Public Adjuster. “It got all over her beds, furniture and everything else.”
Noble advised Ms. Hall that it was unsafe to stay in the house due to the mold that was silently growing inside the walls and blowing through the house and within the AC unit and air ducts. It was too late though, as it ultimately caused permanent health issues. “If the insurance company had done what they are supposed to do, they will automatically inspect a leak with water mitigation and mapping,” said Hall. “I ended up with permanently damaged lungs as a result of their negligence from not conducting these tests early on.”
Now that she knew she needed to get out of the house, Ms. Hall was in need of a temporary place to stay for herself and two dogs. A contractor estimated it would take about three months to get her home back to a livable condition. However, securing temporary housing in the aftermath of a major hurricane is no easy feat. Given that there are so many others in the same boat and price gouging was occurring, the rental prices had increased up to 200% in some cases.
She was able to secure a three-month rental for $9,000 that should have been covered by the additional living expenses in her policy. However, she was again forced to pay out-of-pocket. They also attempted to deny this coverage and might have gotten away with it, but she was prepared in the event that something like this happened. “Ms. Hall was a businesswoman before it was fashionable to be a businesswoman, they had no idea who they were dealing with,” said McGee. “She’s got emails protecting herself and documenting everything that is going on.” She was able to prove it had been previously agreed upon, although it took months before they sent the reimbursement.
After the lease was up, Ms. Hall’s home was still nowhere near being finished. Unable to find affordable temporary rental, she ended up bouncing around and staying at six different places and then found herself with a difficult choice. “I either had to sleep in my house or my car,” said Hall. “So, I slept in my car, but it was too hot to say outside during the day and I had to come inside even though I knew the house was contaminated.”
The Estimate & Negotiations
While all of this was going on, Noble was working to build a case for Ms. Hall to justify the additional coverages she should be receiving opposed to what was initially offered. We handle the claim the same way an insurance adjuster does except we worked on her side to present it in the most favorable light possible. We create our own estimates and gather expert reports from engineers, contractors, water mitigation companies, etc. for independent perspectives to validate the justifications. Getting a fair and accurate estimate for the claim is an important step in the process. Noble’s estimator for the claim was Ashley Johnson, who performed a thorough inspection of the home and left no stone unturned. “I’ve had at least 30-50 contractors and inspectors come in and out of my house for various reasons and all of them would miss something,” said Hall. “Ashley’s the only one that didn’t. She saw everything and didn’t miss a thing.”
During the inspection, she spent hours going through her home and itemizing all the damage, including every piece of clothing and all other contaminated items. Recall that the insurance company’s initial offer was $10,700 and only seven-pages long. Now compare that to Noble’s position, which was over $400,000, nearly reaching policy limits, and 46-pages long. We knew it wouldn’t be easy but it’s what Ms. Hall was entitled to receive based on her policy, and we were ready to fight for it.
After building the case and equipped with all necessary documentation, our team worked through negotiations and the insurance company agreed to release an extra $90,000! This brought her to about $100,000 in total funds received, but we weren’t finished yet. Even with Noble’s estimate, explanations, reasonings, expert engineering and water and mold mapping reports, they still refused to budge on the remaining $300,000. Then one day out of the blue, they shut down negotiations and decided to invoke appraisal.
Appraisal & Final Settlement
When appraisal is invoked on a claim, it means both sides have to hire an appraiser who must come to an agreement on the settlement. Unfortunately, the claim stayed in appraisal for eight months! “That’s one downside to appraisal. There are no statutes, limitations or guidelines, so they can take as long as they want,” said McGee. “Whereas, with every other step of an insurance claim there are reasonable timelines.”
Noble’s appraiser for the claim was Trent Millburn, who led the negotiations throughout appraisal. Every time they met, he would catch that thousands of dollars were somehow missing from the other side, which added to the delay of the settlement. Even though they tried, we still weren’t willing to back down and settle for anything less. He finally got them to agree and the additional $300,000 was released! Finally, her claim was settled after nearly a two-year fight! “Trent was able to get legitimate coverages the insurance company didn’t necessarily agree to,” said McGee. “Including a majority of damaged contents and all of the additional living expenses.”
The insurance companies are not looking out for your best interest. Their primary interest is to maximize the profit margins, and one key factor in accomplishing this is to bank on the policyholder not understanding the technicalities of the policy coverages. Even if you do know, they still try to find reasons and will make excuses to avoid paying it out, as demonstrated in this case. Additionally, they use a variety of tactics to make the claim process difficult, such as dragging out the claim with hopes you’ll give up and accept whatever they decide to give you.
As you can see from Ms. Hall’s experience, even the savviest person can get taken advantage of, which is why Noble takes pride in helping homeowners by calling the bluff of these billion-dollar companies. Without Noble on her side, she would have had no way to recover from the damages caused by Hurricane Michael. “She wouldn’t have ever got the settlement she did, even though it took a long time,” said McGee. “This is her biggest investment, and it’s not like she’s a 30-year-old who can go out and recoup.”