Better Call Behnken: Tips on filing insurance claims, getting repairs done after Hurricane Irma

TAMPA BAY (WFLA) — If you have damage from Hurricane Irma, you may end up paying more out-of-pocket than you thought, even if you are well-covered by insurance.

That’s because your deductible – usually 2 to 5 percent – is based on your covered amount, not the damage estimate, says Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

Patronis explained that many homeowners have no idea that this is the way insurance works. He said this change occurred after major storms years ago, in order to keep insurance companies in Florida.

“You had an environment in the state of Florida after the four named storms we had back in the early 2000s, the insurance industry had to find a way to come back into Florida, and part of it is changing the deductible structure,” Patronis said.

For example, if you’re covered for $300,000, you could be on the hook for as much as $15,000 before insurance would pay a dime.

“The way it’s kind of been corrected is where you had maybe a lower deductible, we had to have a deductible that was based more on the catastrophic type of damage a hurricane can inflict.”

Diana Calzon is learning this as she helps her family deal with a massive tree that crashed on their house. The tree is now sticking through the roof.

“At 1 a.m. we heard the swirling, then we heard the boom,” Calzon said.

As you access damage from Hurricane Irma, please keep these tips in mind to help you get your property repaired and to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

Patronis recommends you start the insurance process as soon as possible.

First things first, locate all of your insurance policy documents.

You will need your homeowners’ policy and your flood insurance policy. Remember, flooding is not covered under most homeowners’ policies. You will possibly need to review your auto policy if you have damage to your vehicle as a result of the storm.

When it is safe to venture outside and look for damage, make sure you take lots of pictures before you touch anything. Take video, too. Do not attempt to make even temporary repairs without doing this.

Your first call should be to your insurance companies. They will tell you their own requirements for filing a claim and get the process started.

Cover damaged areas with tarps in order to prevent further damage.

If you don’t understand your insurance policy, there are state experts waiting to help you. Call 1-877-693-5236 to speak with an expert.

Patronis cautions to look out for door-to-door contractors who may offer deals that sound too good to be true. If you see anything suspicious, you should report that to the state at the same phone number: 1-877-693-5236.

Make sure you hire a licensed contractor for major repairs. Tree trimmers and those doing lawn work do not have to have a contractor’s license. However, it is a good idea to ask to see their insurance policies.

Before hiring anyone to help with damage, make sure you read any document you are asked to sign and make sure you understand what you are signing. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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