A critical deadline is approaching for victims of the August flood who have insurance, which could have a major impact on how much money they receive from their flood insurance companies to fix their homes and replace their belongings.
Standard flood insurance policies require policy holders to send insurers complete and sworn proof-of-loss claims in order to be appropriately compensated for losses. The original deadline was 60 days after the flood, which has been extended twice to 180 days.
That means the deadline for the documentation of damage is between Feb. 5 and Feb. 27 depending on when the flood waters first reached a victim's home.
The vast majority of flood victims have turned in proof-of-loss paperwork ahead of the deadline, according to FEMA officials. But an attorney representing flood victims seeking higher payments said the total losses might not have been fully represented in the paperwork that's been filed.
FEMA spokesman Kurt Pickering said more than 96 percent of the 29,544 people who filed flood insurance claims have submitted their loss documentation.
For the remaining 1,050 insured victims who have yet to finish their paperwork, missing the deadline means that flood insurers could reject the claim.
Attorney Raj Pandit, who is representing clients seeking higher payments for their flood damages, said the deadline will also apply to thousands more who already received an initial flood insurance payment, but are expecting more along the line.
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"Failure to comply with the deadline could forever bar or prevent a home owner from seeking any additional money for the rebuild of their home from their personal insurance company," Pandit said. "Considering the breadth of the devastation we've seen from this flood, 180 days is grossly inadequate."
Pandit said the full proof-of-loss documentation is onerous and can be "20 to 30 pages of line item loss estimates" which often requires an evaluation from a contractor. For homes with flood insurance, the insurers often provided an initial payment on the front end to begin the recovery process that typically was well below the total cost of damages.
Pandit said many insured victims fall into this category, where they have technically submitted their proof of loss, but will have to provide additional evidence detailing their full losses to get supplemental insurance dollars.
The deadline was extended a year after Hurricane Katrina and two years for Hurricane Sandy.
FEMA already granted the first two extensions, at the request of Gov. John Bel Edwards. But Edwards' deputy chief of staff Julie Baxter Payer said they have not received "a volume of calls or requests" that the deadline be extended beyond the 180 days.
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She said they are evaluating how many flood insurance claimants have yet to file their documentation, and could still potentially request an extension. Pickering said those with rejected claims can appeal. He also said if the governor's office submitted another deadline extension, FEMA would review it.