Like it or not, storms are a part of life. We can’t control when they happen or how serious they are, and even if we do everything we possibly can to prepare for them, they sometimes cause damage.
If you’ve experienced property damage or personal injury as the result of a storm, you may be wondering what your options are with regard to compensation. Let’s break down some of the things that you need to consider.
Can Fault Be Determined?
Storms are typically referred to as “Acts of God” – natural events for which no one is at fault – and, as mentioned above, they’re unavoidable. Insurance policies usually have pretty specific guidelines regarding what they will and won’t cover in these instances, and you probably won’t have much success filing for compensation beyond what your policy allows.
There are some cases, however, in which fault can be determined for damages sustained because of a storm. If you can prove that the storm damage you suffer could have been prevented if it weren’t for someone else’s negligence, then you might have a case. Here’s an example: say your next-door neighbor has a tree on their property that is rotten or has a bunch of dead branches on it. If, during a storm, that tree (or one of the branches) falls on your property and causes damage, you might be able to claim that your neighbor is to blame for not properly maintaining the tree (and therefore putting you and your home at risk with their negligence). Of course, being able to prove that the neighbor willingly ignored repeated warning signs that the tree needed to be removed; they can simply say that they were unaware of the danger or didn’t realize how serious it was. If that’s the case, a good lawyer may be able to help you work through how to respond.
Another thing to remember is that Maryland is a contributory negligence state, which means that if you’re determined to be even 1% at fault in a personal injury case, you’re not entitled to any compensation. Again, an experienced lawyer can talk to you about what this means and if you still might have a case, regardless of how strict the laws are. So don’t assume you don’t have any recourse, even if you’re concerned that you might be partly to blame.
How Long Do I Have to File?
In Maryland, the statute of limitations (i.e., the amount of time you have to file your case in court) is three years from when the damage occurred. There are certain cases in which this time limit can be extended, but they are extremely rare; they typically have to do with your age at the time of the accident (for example, if you were under the age of 18 when the damage occurred) or whether or not you can prove that you were legally disabled and unable to file sooner. If you’re planning to file a claim, earlier is always better, so that you don’t run out of time while trying to clear potential hurdles.
Now that we’ve gone over some things to consider, let’s walk through the steps you need to take if you’ve suffered a personal or property-related injury as a result of a storm.
- Assess (and Document) the Damage. As soon as it’s safe to do so, make a detailed note of any and all damage to your property as a result of the storm; take plenty of pictures and/or video if possible. If you have suffered a physical injury because of the storm, seek medical treatment immediately; even if your injuries don’t warrant emergency care, make an appointment with your doctor or healthcare provider and get yourself checked out.
One thing you shouldn’t do yet: clean up property damage caused by the storm, unless it’s absolutely necessary to do so. While pictures and videos are important, you’ll also want to actually show the damage to an insurance adjuster when they come to inspect it. Which brings us to the next step…
- Contact Your Insurance Provider. Take a look at your insurance policy to determine what it covers, and what you might be entitled to in terms of compensation. Then get in touch with your provider to report the damage. If there is extensive damage to your property, the insurance company will probably send a claims adjuster to inspect it. They will also want to examine all of your documentation (photos, video, written testimony if you have it and doctor’s records if you’ve been physically injured).
Keep in mind that your insurance company might try to get you to quickly sign off on a settlement. A word of advice: don’t agree to anything before this next step…
- Speak to a Lawyer. Insurance companies don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart; they may be looking for the quickest and cheapest resolution, rather than one that accurately reflects the compensation you deserve. Enlisting the services of a qualified personal injury lawyer protects you against this outcome, while also taking the burden of dealing with the insurance company off your shoulders. Once you’ve reported the accident and your subsequent injuries or damage, your attorney can be the main point of contact with your insurance provider. They can also help you determine how much you should file for and what to expect during the process.
Dealing with the aftermath of a storm is stressful. But if you know what to look for and you have a plan in place, you can minimize the anxiety and assure yourself of the best possible outcome.
If you’ve suffered personal injury or property damage after a storm and you are considering filing a claim, contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Parr in Baltimore, MD today to schedule your free consultation. We don’t receive a fee unless we win.