Documenting Your Flood Damage Claim with Photographs
Having litigated hundreds of flood insurance cases, there is nothing more important to proving your damages than good photographs. Its so important that it is worthy of a full blog post. First, most people take pictures with their cell phone. That is fine. But please, immediately after taking the picture, back them up to the cloud, download them to a computer, and have them printed in hard copy. That is how important they are. While litigating Sandy flood cases, many clients told me that they had lost pictures that would have proven their case because they subsequently lost or damaged their phones. In the end, it cost them money. In some cases, the clients would not have needed my services if they had good pictures.
Second, take lots of pictures. Take photographs of the exterior of the building – all sides, even if you do not see any damage. Take the photographs from far away, and then move in closer. Same goes for the inside of the house or building. Take a picture that includes the entire room, then move in closer for specific damage. Take pictures of the ceiling and the floor, and all four walls. Again, even if you do not see damage, it may be helpful later on.
Third, take pictures of all personal property (i.e. contents). If you have contents coverage, flood insurance will pay for personal property. Most insurance companies will require that you submit a list of personal property, the room it was located, the age, and value – and you should start working on that immediately as well. But photos will show evidence of the items on the list and allow you to go back and identify items that you may miss. You should open every closet and take pictures of the contents of it before the items are removed. It also includes items under the sink, as well as in all kitchen draws and cabinets. It is amazing how much money in personal products can be stored under a sink in the bathroom – shampoos, conditioner, cologne, perfume, brushes, hair dryers, moisturizer, razor blades, cleaning products, etc. There are probably hundreds of dollars of products that are all covered. Same goes for the kitchen cabinets. Also, take pictures of the contents of any free standing cabinets or desks. If you have damaged books, CDs, DVDs, etc. take a picture of all of them. I had a client once with a DVD collection. She photographed 5 towers of DVDs. Despite seeing hundreds of DVDs in other photographs, the insurance company initially denied paying for any they could not actually see. We eventually were able to obtain coverage, but it could have been avoided with good photographs.
Third, take the pictures before you start cleaning the house or building. Many objects will be tipped over from floating. The photographs will be dramatic, and if you have to litigate your case, they will have an impact on the judge and the attorney for the insurance company. It’s a shocking sight to see photographs of a refrigerator flipped over in a living room or a soaking wet couch in a kitchen. Once you empty the house of damaged personal property, and the rooms are empty, take more photographs of the interior. Insurance companies want to see the number of electrical outlets in a room, the type of doors and molding on the door jams, the types of floors, and the types of cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms. All of these items will need to be accounted for.
Fourth, take pictures of the basement and the items in it. With a National Flood Insurance Program flood insurance policy, many personal items may not be covered if stored in a basement, however many of the utilities, electric, windows, and other items that support the functionality of the upstairs will be.
Fifth, take pictures of all utilities and appliances. If possible, take photos of the make and model numbers of each. Again, if you have an expensive refrigerator or other appliance, you don’t want to only receive payment for a low-value base model. The photograph will prove the make and model, and value.
Sixth, sheds, attached garages, and detached garages and their contents should all be photo graphed. The same rules as above. There may be thousands of dollars of contents in a garage or shed that could or should be covered.
Seventh, (a catch all rule), if it goes in the garbage, it gets photographed.
About the Author: Christopher W. Gerold is an attorney in Chiesa, Shahinian & Giantomasi’s (“CSG”) Disaster Recovery Claims Group. For the past three years, Chris has been representing homeowners, condominium associations and businesses with their Sandy related insurance claims with a special focus on flood insurance. For more information on flood insurance and ways CSG can help you with your flood insurance claim, please contact Chris at (973) 530-2061.