With the devastation of Monday's Oklahoma tornado beginning to set in, victims are coming to grips with the daunting process of recovery. In this difficult situation, victims should take it one day at a time.
With a hat tip to the Dallas Business Journal, here are 10 legal tips for tornado victims:
- Don't re-enter your home unless it's safe. Even if your home is still standing, some damage might not be visible, so be very careful about entering any property or structure.
- Don't blindly sign anything. Never sign any documents that might do away with your legal claims unless you understand what you are signing. If in doubt, you may want to consult an experienced lawyer.
- Be careful about cashing settlement checks. Do not deposit any checks from insurers that have “settlement” written anywhere on them unless you have all of the facts about the value of your loss and are completely satisfied with the amount.
- Read your homeowner's policy. Keep receipts from emergency repairs and log any costs from temporary housing. This may be reimbursable under the "loss of use" portion of your homeowner's policy.
- Take notes and document everything you can. Document any damage with pictures, ideally. Written descriptions of the damage are also helpful.
- Keep an insurance phone log. Jot down all of your attempts to contact your insurance company; if you speak with someone, jot down his or her name and what you discussed. This could come in handy if you need to file a complaint or later need to talk to an attorney.
- Ask for proof. If your insurance company tells you that your policy does not cover the damage that occurred or you feel that the offer is too low, ask for proof.
- Do your research before hiring contractors. If you need to rebuild your home, use a contractor with good references and an long-standing presence in the area. Price several contractors, be firm about terms and deadlines, and do not sign any contracts that are heavy with legalese or force you into arbitration, which strips you of your right to trial. Be skeptical of out-of-town contractors.
- Look into FEMA assistance. Residents can apply for FEMA money to replace lost clothes and to pay for food, lodging, medical, dental and funeral costs.
- Look for free legal clinics. In the aftermath of previous tornadoes, local bar associations have offered pro bono services. In the wake of Monday's Oklahoma tornado, some businesses like U-Haul are offering free services to help storm victims.