Obviously, South Carolinians across the state are dealing with the biggest natural disaster in our state since Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Lawyers at the Joye Law Firm are working with the South Carolina Bar and the South Carolina Association of Justice to find ways to help flood victims deal with the losses they have suffered.
Most people aren’t aware that a standard homeowner’s policy does not include coverage for flood damage. In hurricane situations, an argument can often be made that the water damage was wind-driven, which arguably creates coverage for the homeowner. The flooding we’ve experienced over the past few days after record-setting rainfall almost certainly will not fall under that exception to non-coverage for flood damage. To be covered for flood damage, a homeowner must purchase a separate flood insurance policy from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a federal program created by Congress in 1968. This is a federal benefit program with the government underwriting the coverage with private insurers only acting in the role of administrators of the policies.
NFIP coverage is capped at $250,000 for structural damage to a home and $100,000 for a home’s contents. Owners of more expensive homes will be left with a short-fall in coverage unless they’ve purchased an excess flood damage policy through the private market. Homeowners who do have NFIP coverage need to be aware of a very short 60-day deadline to file their proof of loss form, although FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) can sometimes extend that deadline when a large number of homeowners have been affected, as is sadly the case in South Carolina.
President Obama has now declared eight South Carolina counties a “federal disaster”, which will provide some benefits to those persons who lack NFIP flood coverage. The eight counties covered were Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry, Lexington, Orangeburg, Richland and Williamsburg. An ongoing assessment could lead to more counties being covered by this order. Persons who feel they may be entitled to these benefits can contact FEMA by calling (800)621-FEMA (3362) or by visiting www.disasterassistance.gov. People should be aware that these benefits are often well below the extent of their losses, and it can take weeks to months for these claims to be processed.
South Carolinians have always been resilient in the face of hard times and this storm will not be an exception to that. While there will be some homeowners who will likely need to hire a lawyer to get their insurance claims properly resolved, there will be legal organizations whose members volunteer to provide free legal assessments and this is likely the best place for a flood victim to start. The Joye Law Firm will work with these organizations to help provide this free legal resource as we all pull together to help our neighbors who have been harmed.