In the wake of Hurricane Sandy more than two years ago, thousands of homeowners throughout New York and New Jersey sought out insurance claims as a means of financial restitution for the devastating toll the storm took on their homes.
Yet a growing number of these people suspect that their damage reports may have been altered — or even rewritten — by engineering firms in an effort to minimize the amount of money insurance companies would have to pay to the storm’s victims, a new report shows.
According to a February 16 New York Times article, more than 500 of these doctored damage reports have already been identified by these homeowners’ lawyers. And in November, a federal judge overseeing more than 1,000 Sandy-related lawsuits ordered all drafts of engineering reports be thrown out, stating that revised reports were likely “widespread.”
In response, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has initiated a criminal inquiry into these reports. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the organization that ultimately pays out claims to homeowners with flood damage, is also conducting an inquiry.
For the homeowners themselves, news of these altered damage reports simply confirms a widespread suspicion that insurance companies and their partners often work together to minimize claim payouts. It’s a confusing anomaly when one considers the fact that insurance companies don’t typically cover flood damage; FEMA does.
“It is difficult for any engineering firm who solely works for insurance companies, to seem impartial,” says David Miller, Owner and Licensed Public Adjuster at Miller Public Adjusters, LLC. “What makes it more difficult is when they act in collusion to revise or draft reports in favor of the insurance company, with the claim proceeds. An expert and professional public adjuster may be your only option to help stop this type of criminal activity. Public Adjusters produce reports and documentation to quantify the damage and make a claim to the insurance company for what is owed. They will stop these types of reports and help achieve a fair and accurate claim settlement.”
The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy isn’t the first time altered engineering reports have been a problem for homeowners. According to the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald, altered engineering reports were also a widespread problem in the months after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. These doctored damage reports let insurance companies dole out less money for wind damage.
Homeowners who discover a doctored damage report have the option to file a lawsuit — but as Katrina’s aftermath showed, the litigation process can take a long time to resolve. For homeowners looking to rebuild their homes and their lives after a major natural disaster, a lawsuit usually isn’t a viable option.
Take, for example, the largest lawsuit stemming from altered damage reports after Katrina, Katrina, Rigsby v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. After nearly 10 years, a final court verdict still hasn’t been made, and there’s still no foreseeable end in sight for the homeowner who filed the lawsuit, the Sun Herald reports.
Considering examples like these, it might be quite some time before New York and New Jersey property owners are able to get the claims they deserve.