The past month has been a busy one for New Orleans-based local lawyer Joey LaHatte. In the weeks following Hurricane Ida, he helped area residents deal with insurance companies and ensure they received all the payments and services they were owed.
“The number one question people are asking right now is, ‘Where’s my claims adjuster? Said LaHatte, managing member of the law firm LaHatte, LLC. “The adjusters don’t show up or they talk to someone and all of a sudden they’re out of the business. People call a business and have to answer the same questions again.
While the process can be frustrating, LaHatte said it’s important that people continue to contact their insurance company until their needs are met. He recommends doing this in writing so that there is traceable evidence of someone’s attempts to reach the company and all of the responses.
“Often a phone call is not recorded. If you call them 10 times, there won’t be anything to say you did it, ”LaHatte said. “It’s very different if you email them 10 times. By law, they have an obligation to respond. Send photos and put everything in writing. It can make a big difference.
Additionally, LaHatte said there had been an influx of storm response companies to the area after the hurricane. While some are legitimate, others have no interest in doing quality work. On the contrary, they will do a bad job and bill an insurance company directly on behalf of the resident, often for a lot more money than they should be receiving. The end result is a resident is left with shoddy repairs and an insurance company unwilling to pay more because they have already been billed.
“People are panicked, so there’s a tendency to sign anything,” LaHatte said. “I continue to advise people to do your research.”
Before signing anything with a contractor, LaHatte recommends researching the contractor’s name and company on the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors website. It is a good sign that the business is legitimate if it is licensed and registered in Louisiana. He also suggests that people ask for contractor’s license numbers before making deals and take photos of their driver’s licenses.
LaHatte also cautions people to avoid contractors or companies that refuse to provide an estimate before performing any work.
“If they don’t give you a quote with or without a signature, that’s a sign that they’re trying to over-charge your insurance company,” he said. “If they don’t provide an estimate, don’t be afraid to kick them off the property. Some will offer to give you an estimate if you sign something, which is a huge red flag. No one should sign a piece of paper to get a quote for the repairs.
LaHatte noted that many experts, including the Louisiana Department of Insurance itself, recommend that people get multiple estimates, including at least one from an independent party, before signing anything. LaHatte Law Firm, LLC has its team of recommended estimators who can provide such work.
LaHatte said a common misconception is that people think they can only file an insurance claim if their home has suffered major destructive damage. Indeed, a claim can be filed even if the structure is intact but there has been damage to the contents or damage to some roof shingles. This can include large items like furniture and appliances, as well as smaller items like clothing, office supplies, home decor and more. LaHatte said a home insurance policy should cover at least $ 65,000 in content.
“I’ve seen fonts with $ 20,000 or $ 30,000 in content, which won’t be enough. It all adds up, ”said LaHatte. “People should also review their policies to make sure they include additional living expenses, which should cover evacuation costs and a second living environment if your home is uninhabitable.”
While hiring a lawyer can be a daunting prospect, LaHatte said the end result is often the best possible outcome for a resident.
“Some of these companies will keep delaying things and rely on the fact that most people will give up and stop fighting,” he said. “Those who continue to sue them ultimately get paid more. If we have to sue them they have to answer and sometimes we can get penalties and attorney fees against these insurers under Louisiana law. They have to produce a claim file and a lot of other documents. That’s when they know it got serious.
LaHatte Law Firm, LLC is located at 2000 Clearview Parkway, Suite 203, Metairie. For more information or to schedule a consultation, visit www.lawyerlahatte.com or call 504-309-2996.