Winter Weather Events: Hire a Homeowners Insurance Attorney

Table of Contents

 

Winter storms and weather can create tremendous property damage for homeowners. Extreme winter weather events bring ice, snow, and freezing temperatures, which can damage entire communities. These can lead to legal conflicts with homeowners insurance companies struggling to keep up with the influx of property claims. In such cases, a homeowners insurance attorney can provide guidance when dealing with insurance policy issues.

In February 2021, a severe winter storm left millions of Texans in the freezing cold and without power for days, many of them lacking access to safe drinking water. Many residents experienced a host of other property issues, including burst water pipes and collapsed roofs. It can take months and years, not just days, for people to recover financially from such events.

Over 4 million customers lost power, and more than 20 people died in connection with the February 2021 winter weather event in Texas.

If you or a loved one have been affected by winter weather damage and are facing an insurance dispute, you may need the help of a homeowners insurance lawyer. Contact Pierce Skrabank at (832) 690-7000 for a free, confidential consultation about your property claim.

There are several advantages to hiring a lawyer before you file your insurance claim, which will be explained in more detail in this article.
Texas neighborhood with brick houses covered in snow

 

Types of Winter Weather Damage

Winter weather can cause a wide range of property damage. This depends on many factors, including the nature of the weather events, and how well the property owner was prepared to meet such conditions.

Common forms of winter weather damage include:

Frozen and Burst Water Pipes

Extremely low temperatures can cause water pipes to rupture. This can cause major property damage and may also leave the residents without water for an extended period of time.

Homeowners insurance typically won’t cover burst water pipes, but it may often cover the resulting water damage. What this means, however, is that the homeowner will likely have to come out of pocket to pay a plumber to fix the actual broken pipes.

Burst water pipes can be avoided by preparing them with extra insulation, especially ones that run along outside walls. Turning off valves to outdoor pipes can also help.

Falling Trees and Branches

A large percentage of property damage insurance claims are from falling trees or falling tree limbs. During winter storms, these can fall on people’s homes, causing damage to the roofs, electrical services, and other aspects of the property.

Winter weather event insurance usually covers tree damage, though disputes can still arise regarding the extent of damage and reimbursements.

Ice Dams

Ice dams form when water backs up in the home’s gutters and then freezes. This can create long icicles which can make the house look picturesque; however, icicles are actually a sign that the roof and gutter may be in danger of damage. Clogged gutters can then later lead to water accumulating and leaking into the house.

Ice dams can often be prevented by increasing attic ventilation — hot air trapped in the attic causes snow on the roof to melt and then refreeze in the gutters.

Access Blockage

Wintery weather can block main access points around a home and can make walkways slippery. For instance, the weight of snow or ice on fences can cause them to collapse. This can create various forms of property damage and increases the risk of slip and fall injuries.

To help prevent injuries, be proactive and use de-icing salt to clear pathways. It can also help to block off dangerous pathways or areas.

Common Excuses Insurance Companies Make

An important point to understand about insurance companies is their main priority as a business is protecting their own profits and bottom line. After a severe event like a winter storm or a hurricane (such as Hurricane Laura), you can expect homeowners insurance agents to try to limit coverage for insured policyholders.

Common responses that insurance companies might make to contradict a claim include:

  • The coverage falls outside of the policy: Insurance companies might claim that the policy doesn’t cover the specific damage. For instance, they may try to argue that water-related damage is excluded from coverage as “flood” damage.
  • Delays/Late Filing: Policies often only cover losses for a specific period of time after the winter weather event occurs. Claims filed after this time period may be delayed or denied. In most areas, this is usually one year after the event. Thus, it’s important to contact an attorney as soon as possible and file promptly.
  • Incomplete Information: Similarly, insurance claims can be denied or delayed if there is missing, incomplete, or inaccurate information.
  • “Multiple Occurrences”: Many policy deductibles are calculated on a “per-occurrence” basis. Thus, there may be disputes about whether the damage is connected to a single occurrence, or if it involved multiple weather patterns classified as multiple occurrences. The way losses are categorized can drastically affect coverage amounts.

 

Insurance companies will be bombarded with thousands of claims after severe weather events. The responses above may often be used in efforts to process claims quickly. Errors can also occur, as agents may sometimes be undertrained or under certified, or acting as a rep in a part-time capacity.

Therefore, it’s in your best interests to consult with a homeowners insurance attorney prior to contacting your insurance company about a claim. Your attorney can help ensure that your claim is filed in a timely manner and that it meets all the requirements.

Snow on a house roof with large icicles hanging off the edges

Tips for Dealing with Homeowners Insurance Companies and Agents

If your residence was damaged due to fallen trees or limbs, broken water pipes, or other winter weather damage, contact an attorney as soon as possible to learn about your legal rights and next steps. In the meantime, the following tips can help you protect yourself and your assets:

  • Account for all damaged property: Make a list and take videos and pictures of the damage for proof. DO NOT throw any items away until they have been inspected by the insurance agent.
  • Be present during the inspection: Accompany the inspector during the entire walkthrough. Make sure their observations square up with your own videos and photos.
  • Maintain a list of everyone you speak to from the insurance companies: Always take down the names and contact info of every representative or agent you speak to. Keep a log of the date and time when you speak with them.
  • Record additional living expenses: If you need to stay in a hotel due to the damage, your policy may cover these expenses.
  • Protect your home from additional damage: Turn off the water, and cover up holes in your roof or windows if you can. Save all receipts for any quick repairs you’ve made — your policy will likely cover these costs.

These tips can help prevent disputes; however, if you do have a dispute, the services of a lawyer can be of great assistance. In addition, your attorney will be able to protect you from one of the more prevalent concerns: insurance fraud. 

 

Avoiding Homeowners Insurance Fraud

Insurance fraud happens in various settings, and homeowners insurance is no exception. The following pointers can help you protect yourself from fraud:

  • Never sign a contract that you don’t understand, and never sign a contract that has blank spaces.
  • Check the background and credentials of any agent you’re working with. You can visit the Texas Department of Insurance and conduct a search to see if an agent has had disciplinary orders against them.
  • Try to obtain more than one bid for your claim. This can help put you in a position to select more favorable offers.
  • Don’t pay up front and hold off on making the final payment until the process is complete. Contractors from outside of your area typically can’t ask for payment before starting their work.
  • An offer to waive your deductible or a promise to rebate the deductible amount is illegal under Texas state law. Avoid and report contractors who attempt to do this.
  • Report any suspected instances of fraud, price gouging, or unethical business practices. An attorney can help you with the reporting process.

The average homeowner may not be in a position to recognize or identify when insurance fraud is happening to them. For instance, after a weather crisis or emergency, people are often in a state of confusion and despair, making them all the more susceptible to deceitful insurance tactics.

For these reasons, it is all the more important to consult with an attorney before you begin the claims process. Having an attorney on your side will help ease your mind about negotiations, contract terms, and filing requirements — your attorney will do the bulk of the lifting for you.

 

Contact a Texas Homeowners Insurance Attorney

Winter weather events can create long-term challenges and struggles for homeowners. If you or a loved one have been affected by a winter storm and are facing difficulties with your insurance company, contact Pierce Skrabanek for legal representation. We have decades of experience going up against large institutions and companies. Our proven track record showcases our ability to obtain the best possible financial awards for our clients.

Get in touch with us at (832) 690-7000 for a free, no-cost obligation regarding your property damage and winter insurance issues. It’s best to contact an attorney early, so they can assist you throughout the process in dealing with the insurance company.

 

Winter Weather Homeowners Insurance Attorney FAQs

It’s typically acceptable to make temporary, emergency repairs to your property to stop more damage. This includes things like shutting off the water or covering holes in the roof. However, you should hold off on more permanent repairs until you’ve had an assessment with your insurance company.

Your policy will likely cover the materials and labor needed for repairs. Be sure to take pictures of the initial damage before work is done, as well as the progress of the repairs.

Most likely not — additional living expenses like hotel fees usually only apply if the house was physically damaged. However, if you have questions, contact your insurance agent or an attorney to determine the exact details of your coverage.

Homeowners insurance usually does cover hotel stays if there is physical damage to the property. However, there will likely also be limits on the amount of coverage. If you will be staying at a hotel or shelter for an extended period of time, you may need to cover a portion of the fees.

Policies usually cover snow and ice damage to a certain extent. The policy may cover only specific scenarios, such as when a roof, fence, or patio collapses under the weight of snow. Snow damage insurance coverage can vary if the collapse damages other parts of the property.

Standard homeowners insurance policies usually cover wind damage. However, certain policies may contain a hail and wind exclusion. Wind damage is a common concern for residents of Texas and surrounding areas, so be sure to check your policy to see if you’re covered.

Home fires are usually covered. As temperatures dip, homeowners often use space heaters or fireplaces to keep warm. But these are also responsible for a large percent of home fires every year. In most cases, home insurance policies will also cover fire damage. However, you may encounter difficulties if your own negligence contributed to the fire.

You should contact a homeowners insurance attorney even before you file your claim. That way, your attorney can help with:

  • Gathering the documents needed for the claim
  • Reviewing any relevant forms and contracts
  • Checking the background of the insurance agent
  • Acting as an intermediary or go-between with you and the company
  • Ensuring you are not being victimized through fraudulent tactics

Of course, if you have any type of existing homeowners insurance dispute or suspect fraud, you should contact a lawyer immediately to help protect your rights. Call Pierce Skrabanek at (832) 690-7000 to speak with a qualified, experienced homeowners insurance attorney.