The last month has been a busy one for New Orleans based local attorney Joey LaHatte. In the weeks since Hurricane Ida struck, he’s been helping area residents deal with insurance companies and ensure they receive all payments and services they are owed.
“The number one question people are asking right now is, ‘Where is my adjuster?,’ said LaHatte, the managing member of LaHatte Law Firm, LLC. “The adjusters don’t show up or they speak to someone and all of a sudden, they’re not with the company anymore. People call a company and have to answer the same questions all over 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 so in writing so there is traceable evidence of a person’s attempts to reach the company and all responses.
“A phone call oftentimes won’t be logged. If you call them 10 times, there’s not going to be anything that says you did that,” LaHatte said. “It’s a lot different if you email them 10 times. They have an obligation under the law to respond to that. Send pictures and put everything in writing. It can make a big difference.”
In addition, LaHatte said there’s been an influx of storm responder companies in the region after the hurricane. While some are legitimate, others have no interest in doing quality work. Rather, they will do a poor job and bill an insurance company directly on the resident’s behalf, often for much more money than they should receive. The end result is a resident ends up with shoddy repairs and an insurance company that does not want to pay more since they have already been billed.
“People are in a panic, so there’s a tendency to sign anything,” LaHatte said. “I keep counseling people to do your research.”
Before signing anything with a contractor, LaHatte recommends searching for the contractor’s name and company on the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors website. It’s a good sign that the company is legitimate if they are licensed and registered in Louisiana. He also suggests people ask for contractor’s license numbers before making any agreements and taking pictures of their driver’s license.
LaHatte also cautions people to avoid any contractors or companies who refuse to provide an estimate before doing any work.
“If they won’t give you an estimate with or without a signature, that’s a sign that they are trying to bill your insurance company excessively,” he said. “If they won’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 an estimate for 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 one common misconception is that people believe they can only file an insurance claim if their home received major destructive damage. In fact, a claim can be filed even if the structure is intact but there was damage to contents or some damages to a few roofing shingles. This can include large items like furniture and appliances as well as smaller items like clothing, office supplies, décor and more. LaHatte said a home insurance policy should cover at least $65,000 worth of contents.
“I’ve seen some policies with $20,000 or $30,000 in contents, which is not going to be enough. All of those items add up,” LaHatte said. “People should also review their policies to make sure it includes additional living expenses, which should cover the costs for evacuation and a second living environment if your house is unlivable.”
Although hiring an attorney may be a daunting prospect, LaHatte said the end result is often the best possible outcome for a resident.
“Some of these companies will endlessly delay things and bank on the fact that most people will give up and stop fighting,” he said. “The ones who continue to go after them ultimately get paid more. If we have to sue them, they have to respond and sometimes we can obtain penalties and attorney’s 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’s gotten 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.