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Prepare for Hurricane Season in Florida with the Right Property Insurance Coverage

As a longtime Central Florida resident and insurance claims attorney, I am very familiar with the fact that each year Florida is under the constant threat from violent storms, some of which directly impact the State. These storms can be in the form of major hurricanes leaving a wake of destruction in their paths. Every year the month of June signals the start of the Atlantic hurricane season and residents all across the State of Florida begin monitoring the news for signs of an impending threat or developing storm system. As storms are spotted and the National Hurricane Center begins issuing warnings, Floridians begin implementing their hurricane preparedness plan. They begin stocking up on bottled water, non-perishable foods, batteries, and other essential items. Unfortunately, these preparations, for most Floridians, doesn't include ensuring they have adequate insurance coverage to protect their homes and businesses.

The 2004 Atlantic hurricane season had 16 tropical depressions, 15 named storms, 9 hurricanes, 6 of which were deemed major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale) and is considered one of the deadliest and most costly Atlantic hurricane seasons on record in the last decade. There were over 3,000 deaths attributable to the flooding rains and winds caused by the storms and an estimated $50 billion in damage to property. The most notable storms for the season were the five named storms that made landfall in the State of Florida: Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. This is the only time in recorded history that four hurricanes directly affected Florida. The Insurance Information Institute estimated that one out of every five homes in Florida was damaged by these hurricanes. Some 9.4 million Florida residents were evacuated from their homes. The damage inflicted by these storms was catastrophic and left behind a wreckage of homes and businesses.

Even though tropical storms and hurricanes routinely garner the most attention, Central Florida is also well known for being the recipient of a barrage of thunderstorms. As the thunderstorm and lightning capital of the world, Central Florida is routinely under attack from nature's elements. Despite these constant threats, Florida law does not require owners of property to carry insurance coverage, which would help pay for the damages incurred to their property. Property insurance covers perils (hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, fires, windstorm, lightning, water, hail, smoke, vandalism, theft, electrical, plumbing, sinkholes, or mold) to property and pays for the damage caused to homes and their contents, and may even pay for damage to other structures, such as tool sheds, detached garages, guest houses, boats and their content.

It is not only important for Florida's property owners to purchase insurance to protect their property, but it is also essential that they are adequately insured and have an thorough understanding of what there insurance covers. This involves ensuring they have sufficient limits of insurance to pay for the repair or reconstruction of the actual building structure, including garages, storage buildings, swimming pools, fences, as well as permanently installed fixtures, machinery and equipment. Owners of business property should ensure they are adequately protected in the event there business is not operational following the loss. They should seek to obtain sufficient limits of insurance to cover the damage to the business' personal property and loss of income. This can easily be accomplished by obtaining an accurate estimate of the value of the property itself and making sure that estimate is reflected accordingly on the insurance coverage limits.

Property insurance policies routinely carry a number of exclusions and deductibles. These include hurricane deductibles and exclusions for damage caused by floods. I am routinely confronted with the realization that many Floridians are unaware that flood damage is not covered by their homeowner's insurance. Many are under the mistaken belief that their property insurance covers them for this loss and only come to realize this after they have suffered significantly. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters, and business owners if their community participates in the NFIP. The NFIP is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which works closely with nearly 90 private insurance companies to offer flood insurance to property owners and renters. For more information on obtaining flood insurance, you should contact your property insurance company or agent.

Just because Florida does not require property insurance doesn't mean that this issue should be ignored. The aftermath of the 2004 hurricane season should serve as a glaring example to property owners of the importance of having the right insurance coverage. Many suffered the total loss of their homes, apartments, or businesses or incurred significant damage to their property rendering them homeless or without work. Although the 2009 hurricane season is underway, it is not to late to revisit your property insurance coverage.

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