- Natural disasters bring unexpected legal and financial issues. After a natural disaster, individuals may need to work with legal and financial professionals to help resolve unexpected issues, like contractor disputes or bankruptcy claims.
- Tips for recovery. Understand your insurance policy coverage. Tap into local or federal assistance programs. To help rebuild quickly and efficiently, work with reputable individuals that provide contracts for all necessary work.
- Plan ahead to prevent future issues. Having important documents and information in one spot allows homeowners to quickly take them in case of an emergency. Creating care directives and wills are beneficial in case an individual is severely injured.
Recent natural disasters, like Hurricane Ian, are real-world reminders of the devastating impact they can have on our communities — and the pressing need to plan for the aftermath.
From the epicenter in Florida, the latest Category 4 hurricane’s presence was felt across the Southeast and up the eastern seaboard. Meanwhile in the West, wildfires continue to rage, and their effects are also far-reaching. A U.S. Energy Department study shows the mega-blazes are spurring extreme hail, deluge, and flash floods in states like Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Oklahoma. And on average, 1,250 tornadoes touch down and wreak havoc across the U.S.
In the aftermath of one of these natural disasters, safety and well-being are top priority. But soon after, as employees work to recover, they may find themselves facing unexpected legal and financial issues. Here are some ways employers can support their employees’ efforts to recover and rebuild or be more prepared for the potential of a natural disaster.
1. Tap Into Resources for Natural Disaster Victims
After a natural disaster, local and national organizations, along with insurance companies, may provide assistance to help rebuild. FEMA may be available to help support impacted individuals with rebuilding, temporary rental assistance and other needs after a disaster. Individuals may also be eligible for other benefits from the U.S. government. After a widespread disaster, many insurance companies will send claims representatives onsite — in mobile claims units or catastrophe response teams — to help facilitate damage reporting and expedite claims.
2. Understand Your Rights and Responsibilities
Property damage is typically the most pressing concern. Employees may have questions about who is responsible for cleaning up efforts or should they continue paying your rent or mortgage. In most cases, individuals should continue making mortgage and rent payments, but they may be able to temporarily pause the payments. While local laws and individual insurance policies may vary, homeowners should assume that:
- They are responsible for clean-up and disposal of debris on their property.
- If insured, review the policy’s coverage. The insurance company may be obligated to pay for cleanup. That could include removal of fallen limbs or other debris that cause damage to their home, fence or driveway.
- If debris came from a neighbor’s yard, the homeowner is still obligated to pay for clean-up unless they can prove that the neighbor’s negligence led to the damage. In general, a neighbor’s homeowner insurance covers their home and property, and the employee’s insurance covers their home and property.
For those who lease and don’t own the property, the landlord is most likely responsible for repairs, but is not liable for any personal injury or property damage resulting from a natural disaster. Again, those with renter’s insurance should review the policy to determine what’s covered and what can be replaced.
3. Work With Insurance Providers
Filing claims and getting reimbursed for lost or damaged items can be a lengthy and sometimes frustrating process. To help smooth the process:
- Inventory personal property and take photos of the damage.
- Be familiar with the terms, deductibles and provisions.
- Track the times and dates of all phone calls, who you talked to and the subject of the call.
- Save all emails and documents you receive.
- Respond quickly to all written and electronic messages.
- Be patient and informative.
4. Beware of Consumer Scams
After a natural disaster, unscrupulous vendors can prey on those under tremendous stress. Price gouging, refinancing schemes or home repair scams run rampant. People struggling to afford the necessary renovations are prime targets for fake contractors that may swoop in and promise a very low fee to help them recover and then disappear with their money.
To help prevent falling for a scam:
- Never pay any money without reviewing and signing a contract.
- Get two to three quotes for any contractor work proposed to compare costs and terms.
- Ask for references, proof of insurance and licensing as required by local or state law.
- Resist high pressure tactics designed to force quick or uninformed financial decisions.
- Don’t borrow more money than you know you can afford or make false statements on a loan application.
- Research all lenders, contractors, appraisers, etc. with the Attorney General’s Office or Better Business Bureau®.
5. Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
In a natural disaster, it’s easy for important belongings to be misplaced or damaged. This may increase the risk for identity theft. As a cautionary measure, consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report. This requires creditors to follow specific procedures before opening new accounts in your name or making changes to existing accounts. Make copies of important documents and save them to a cloud storage service or in a secure off-site location, like in a deposit box in a bank.
Once individuals have identified a reputable contractor or other building professionals to help with restoring their home, it’s important be proactive to avoid conflicts and other issues. Make sure the contractor creates a signed contract (reviewed by an attorney) for all work that is to be completed. Costs should be itemized, and a timeline should be created.
To prevent legal issues after natural disasters in the future, consider building a Go Kit. Include all legal identification documents, like licenses, passports and marriage licenses, along with mortgage and insurance information. Having this information in a centralized location will make it easy to grab it and go in the event of future disasters.
If your clients’ employees are experiencing problems, be sure to remind them of any voluntary benefits you offer that might help them, such as legal insurance, which can connect them with attorneys who can provide advice and representation.
Nothing can make the stress of recovering after a hurricane, flooding or natural disaster go away, but these tips will ensure that employees know their rights and don’t add to their financial and legal stress.
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