Dispute Over Hurricane Katrina Home Repair Shows Role of Appraisal Process in Insurance Settlements.

If a homeowner insures his home and then suffers damage to the structure, the process of making a claim and being paid for the loss can be long and frustrating. Frequently, the insurance company will arrive at its value of the loss and attempt to persuade the homeowner to accept that value, even if it doesn’t reflect the homeowner’s actual costs of repair. In such a case, the homeowner should check his policy for an “appraisal clause.” This provision provides for an alternative method for setting the value of the property damage. An appraisal procedure requires the homeowner to obtain an independent appraiser to survey the damage and assign a value to the loss. Similarly, the insurance company must hire an independent appraiser to perform the same analysis. The two appraisers must petition the court for the appointment of an umpire who will then oversee the negotiation of the settlement based on the two appraisals. Once any two of the parties–the appraisers and/or the umpire–agree as to the value of the loss, the matter is settled.

In Louisiana, like other states, flood insurance policies are underwritten through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The NFIP authorizes private insurance companies to issue policies and handle the claim settlement process. Claims are actually paid by the federal government. FEMA requires that all NFIP flood insurance policies include an appraisal clause.

After their was heavily damaged by flood in Hurricane Katrina, William and Cynthia Dwyer filed a claim with their flood insurer, Fidelity National Property and Casualty Insurance Company. The Fidelity policy was issued through the NFIP. The Dwyers disagreed with Fidelity’s offer of settlement and took the dispute to the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The court entered judgment for the Dwyers, and on appeal by Fidelity, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the judgment and ordered the parties to submit to the appraisal process as outlined in the policy. The Dwyers and Fidelity sought appointment of an umpire, who then submitted to the district court an appraisal that included the amount of actual damage to the Dwyer home as well as a “mark-up for overhead and profit” intended to cover the cost of a general contractor to make the repairs. Fidelity accepted the umpire’s figure on damages but objected to the addition of the mark-up because the Dwyers had already sold the house and would not have any role in the repair itself. The Fifth Circuit agreed with Fidelity that “the award of overhead and profit was erroneous” and noted that “Fidelity told the district court that absent the improper award of overhead and profit, it agreed with the umpire’s appraisal.” Thus, determining that Fidelity and the umpire were in agreement on the amount of the loss, the court entered judgment ordering Fidelity to pay the Dwyers $1,552.51. This amount represented the umpire’s appraisal amount less the erroneous overhead and profit, the policy deductible, and the amount Fidelity had already paid out to the Dwyers.

The appraisal process seeks to take the potentially emotional settlement of an insurance claim out of the hands of the homeowner and the insurance company and leave the decision to disinterested, expert third parties who have no connection to the outcome. Although the process is generally more cost-effective and expedient than litigation, a homeowner should consult with an experienced attorney to ensure the procedure is properly followed and his rights are protected.

If you are facing a dispute with your insurance company over the value of your claim, call the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 today.

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