Even tropical storms leave their mark.
South Florida was spared a hurricane, but the fringes of Isaac soaked the area and left behind leaky roofs, flooded homes and, in a few unusual cases, lightning damage.
For those affected homeowners the next step is navigating an insurance claims process that involves plenty of patience and paperwork.
"Filing any claim is a pain in the butt," said Irvin Rosenfeld, 59, whose Lauderhill home suffered Isaac-related flood damage in two bedrooms. "You just have to stay on top of it and make sure it's being taken care of."
State-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the largest Florida property insurer with roughly 1.4 million policies, said it had received more than 1,800 claims as of Wednesday, mostly in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Christine Amoroso filed a claim earlier this week after a a lightning bolt hit a nearby tree, sending a 5-foot splinter of wood through the front window of her Delray Beach home. On Wednesday, Citizens sent an adjuster to the home to assess the damage.
"I could have been dead," said Amoroso, 83. "It exploded through my window. It decimated my China cabinet."
She feared she would have to shell out around $2,500 to meet the deductible required in order for the insurance company to pay the claim.
A Citizens spokeswoman said the insurer expects 5,000 to 6,000 claims to be filed over the next few weeks, down from an original estimate of 20,000 to 50,000.
Still, with storms like Debby and Isaac wreaking havoc, the potential for more claims remains a distinct possibility. And September is the traditional peak of hurricane season. With that in mind, here are answers to common questions about filing claims:
Is time a factor in filing? Yes. The National Flood Insurance Program, run by the federal government, requires homeowners to provide a notice of loss immediately and formally file a "proof of loss" form within 60 days, said Chip Merlin, a property insurance attorney in Florida. The form is a sworn statement that accompanies the claim. Florida homeowners must file a windstorm claim within three years. Previously, policyholders had five years based on the statute of limitations on all contracts in Florida.
Should I get an independent assessment of the damage? Consumer advocates say that's a good option. Public adjusters take over for the homeowner, preparing the claim and handling negotiations with the insurer. But consumers may want to first consider the size of the loss, said Dick Tutwiler, head of a Tampa-based public adjusting firm with an office in Hollywood. It's probably not worth it for the average homeowner on a loss of less than $10,000, he said.
That's because adjusters work on a contingency-fee basis, usually getting up to 10 percent of the homeowner's settlement with the insurance company. "Hopefully, the public adjuster can get you more money than you would on your own," Tutwiler said.
Using adjusters, however, remains controversial and a point of contention. Representatives for insurance companies say adjusters tend to inflate prices. Lisa Miller, a former insurance regulator and now a consultant for insurance companies, advises homeowners to work directly with the insurer first before considering an independent adjuster.
Consumers should check any adjuster's' license by clicking the "Licensee Search" link at myfloridacfo.com/agents/licensure or by calling the Department of Financial Services at 877-693-5236 or 850-413-3089.
Will my rates go up if I file a claim? It's illlegal for an insurance company to raise a rate or cancel a policy strictly because a homeowner filed a claim, Miller said.
"When Mrs. Smith files a claim for $3,000, her individual policy rate cannot go up," she said. "But if 100,000 Mrs. Smiths file $3,000 claims and the insurance company did not [adequately] estimate the rate to pay these claims, that fact is considered by insurance regulators as they decide on future rate increases."
Who can I complain to about the claims process? The Department of Financial Services' consumer services division handles compaints regarding insurance matters. Florida homeowners can call 877-693-5236.
Powers@tribune.com , 561-243-6529 or Twitter @paulowers
If you file a claim:
Request and keep all documents related to a claim.
Keep a journal, noting the dates of all calls, phone numbers and the names of people involved.
Also keep detailed notes and time-stamped photos of damage and provide a copy to any adjusters involved.
If you're a Citizens policyholder:
Call your agent or 866-411-2742.
Have your policy number available.
Provide current contact information.
Be prepared to give a brief description of the visible damage to your property (for example: tree limb fell on the roof, roof shingles blown off, etc.).
Have your current mortgage company information available.
Source: Sun Sentinel research, Citizens Property Insurance Corp.