Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency in four Florida counties in response to overnight tornadoes and severe weather in Central Florida. Sumter, Lake, Volusia and Seminole Counties re under the governor’s declaration.
Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is urging Central Florida residents whose homes or businesses were damaged overnight by powerful storms to call the Department of Financial Services’ storm hotline at (800) 227-8676 if they have questions regarding steps to take to immediately protect their homes or need help filing an insurance claim.
The storm line was activated early Friday after a powerful storm system suspected of spawning tornadoes struck Sumter, Lake, Volusia, and Seminole counties and parts of Flagler County.
This is the second storm with tornadic winds to strike the area in two months, according to Sink’s office.
“My heart is breaking for our citizens in those counties,” said Sink, who also serves as State Fire Marshal. “We have resources available on the phone and on the ground and will do all we can to help these residents and communities get back on their feet quickly.”
Sink is urging all Floridians to stay tuned to weather announcements and heed any warnings or watches that may be issued.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office is responsible for coordinating search and rescue and fire operations at the state’s Emergency Operations Center and has teams in the affected counties.
Sink recommends that property owners take the following actions if they suffered damage:
•Stay away from downed power lines.
•If safe, make emergency repairs to protect from further damage; document the damage and repairs in writing and with receipts and photos.
•Immediately report property damage to your insurance agent and company.
•Gather copies of your household inventory and other documentation, including photos. This will assist the adjuster in assessing the value of the destroyed property.
•If you must leave your home because of the damage, let your agent or insurance company know your temporary forwarding address and phone number.
•Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses. Hire licensed and reputable service people.
•If considering the assistance of a public insurance adjuster, verify that they are licensed by calling the department’s storm hotline.
•Be sure you understand how much a public insurance adjuster is charging and what services are included before signing any contract.
•Use generators in well-ventilated outside areas, never indoors or in a garage or carport.
Sink also reminds residents that because of the declaration of emergency issued by Gov. Crist the maximum fee that public adjusters can charge for storm victims in counties named in the order is capped at 10 percent of the claim payment.
Furthermore, public adjusters are prohibited from demanding or accepting any type of advance fees, retainers, or other compensation prior to any payment being made on the claim.
A new rule, which went into effect on Sept. 3, 2006, triggers these consumer protections when the governor declares a state of emergency. Under the new rule, the fee cap will not expire for tornado victims regardless of when they may enter into a public adjuster contract for a claim related to damages sustained from the storm.
Public adjusters are not affiliated with any insurance company and are hired by the consumer for a fee which is usually stated as a percentage of the claim payment the public adjuster is responsible for recovering.
Independent and company adjusters work for insurance companies and do not charge fees to consumers. Consumers should make sure they are dealing with a licensed public adjuster by calling the storm hotline or by logging on to www.fldfs.com to verify licensure of any adjuster, and should also read and understand any contract before signing.
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