Review your homeowner’s insurance policy, and you’ll notice that it covers certain types of sudden or accidental losses to your property (covered losses) and does not cover other types of losses (non-covered losses). Pre-existing damage is one of the most common exclusions insurance companies use to deny otherwise valid claims.
Let’s discuss what pre-existing damage is and what it means when an insurance company denies your homeowner’s claim for pre-existing damage. We’ll also cover what you can do to decrease the likelihood your insurance company will be able to deny a valid homeowner’s claim using this reason now or in the future.
What Is Pre-Existing Damage?
Pre-existing damage to your property can include the following:
Damage that pre-dates the purchase of your insurance policy;
Failure to properly maintain your property from damage prior to the date of loss; and
Wear and tear over an extended period of time to your property
The reason insurance companies like to use the pre-existing damage exclusion to deny claims is twofold. First, insurance companies are not required to cover losses that can be attributed to pre-existing damage to the property. Second, they know that litigating claims based upon a pre-existing damage exclusion is fact-sensitive in nature. In other words, insurance companies will use all of the information that they have collected during the application and underwriting process to your detriment.
TIP: Get the facts on your side and memorialize them in documents such as inspection reports, photos, etc.
In a typical pre-existing damage case, the following issues would have to be litigated:
Are there records that support or refute the insurance company’s claim that the damage to the property was present prior to the date of loss? These may include “before” photographs of the property, records regarding the sale of the home, home repair records, and prior inspection reports.
In the event of water damage, was the water damage caused by wind-driven rain or flooding or a combination of both? Bear in mind that damage caused to your home by flooding is covered under a separate policy, so insurance companies love to trot out this argument to deny claims.
What kind of repairs, if any, did you perform on the property before the reported date of loss?
How to Minimize Pre-Existing Damage Exclusions
Here are five steps you can take to minimize the chances your insurance company can deny your claim under a pre-existing damage exclusion.
Consult a lawyer. Do not just read your insurance policy to understand how it defines pre-existing exclusions such as wear and tear, maintenance of the property, etc. Consult with an experienced Florida homeowner’s attorney who can review your policy and explain the nuances of the exclusion in your policy to you.
Take photographs now. If you only take pictures of your property after a storm such as a hurricane, you will have a harder time recouping insurance money for your reported loss. Take photos of your property, date them, and store them in a safe space (preferably in an online data site such as Dropbox or a safety deposit box).
Schedule an inspection of your property. Again, if you only have your property inspected (especially your roof) after a storm causes damage to your property, then it can hurt your claim. We recommend scheduling an inspection of your property by a licensed general contractor and/or roofer every several years.
Keep good records. If your property needs repairs after an inspection, then don’t put it off. Make sure you provide your insurance company with documentation of the repairs.
Provide your insurance company notice of improvements you have made to safeguard your property. The more documentation you provide to your insurance company regarding what you have done to properly maintain your property before a loss the less likely your insurance company will be to deny your claim for pre-existing damage.
If your insurance company denied your claim for pre-existing damage under your homeowner’s insurance policy, call PZ Law Firm at (407) 500-EZPZ (3979) today. Information is power, and power is what you need if you are driven from your home following a natural disaster.
Disclaimer: This column does not create a client-attorney relationship and is not intended as legal advice. Should you need any legal advice, speak to an attorney who is skilled in the area and jurisdiction you require.