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Property Insurance FAQs

Q. What are the Fees and Expenses

A. Alonso, Perez & Santos, LLP, LLP. handles virtually every case on a contingency fee basis, unless the client requests other arrangements. Under our standard contingency fee agreement, if there is no recovery, there are no fees or costs owed to A&P. In addition, Florida law provides that if a policyholder sues his/her/its insurance company, to recover on a Florida issued policy, the insurance company must pay a reasonable attorney’s fee if the insured is successful in the suit. There are some policies, such as certain flood policies and policies issued outside of the state, which may not qualify for an attorneys’ fee award. Alonso, Perez & Santos, LLP, LLP. routinely advances all costs associated with the litigation and only charges those costs to the client/policyholder in the event of a recovery.

Q. I have a small insurance claim, but my insurance company will not pay. Won’t it cost me more to pursue the claim than I can recover?

A. No, because we operate on a contingency basis; that is, no costs or attorneys fees unless you recover.

Q. My insurance company has agreed to pay my claim, but has offered me less money than I believe I am entitled. What can I do?

A. Many insurance policies, including almost all homeowners, business owners and auto policies, contain appraisal provisions. “Appraisal” is a process of determining the amount of the loss. Typically, the insured appoints an appraiser, the insurer appoints an appraiser and the two appraisers agree on an umpire. If there is no agreement as to an umpire, a court may determine the umpire. Usually, then, the appraisers separately value the loss and submit differences, if any to the umpire. Agreement by 2 of the 3 will typically finally determine the amount of loss. Before you demand or agree to appraisal, you may wish to consult with an attorney who can review your specific situation. Most of the policies congaing the appraisal process are being changed, some still have appraisal as a remedy. In the event your particular policy has changed or the appraisal provision is simply not contained in the policy, we can still dispute the amount of loss in a Court of law.

Q. My insurance company wants to take my recorded statement. Should I cooperate?

A. Yes, most policies of insurance, particularly homeowners and business owners, require an insured to cooperate and to give a statement if requested. However, use good judgment and seek professional assistance before the recorded statement if possible. For example, if you have suffered a fire loss and your insurer begins to ask you questions about your finances, debts, flammable liquids in your home, etc.; you may wish to reschedule your statement and seek professional assistance. Your insurer may believe the loss to be intentional and may suspect you are responsible. In all cases where your “adjuster” is from your insurer’s “S.I.U. (Special Investigative Unit), you should seek legal advice. “S.I.U.” units are typically devoted to suspected fraudulent claims. In such cases, ask your adjuster, on tape, for a continuation of the statement to a time that your attorney can be present.

Q. If I have done nothing wrong, why do I need an attorney?

A. Because, unfortunately, the issue may not be whether you have actually done something “wrong”, but rather, whether your insurer suspects you may have done something wrong. The insurer will look for and elicit specific information from you to attempt to deny your cliam. You must always remember, the insurance company does not work for you and is generally not looking out for your best interest.

Q. I gave my insurer a recorded statement; but now I have been asked to appear for an “examination under oath” (sworn statement). What is this? Must I attend?

A. Typically, all homeowners and business owners’ policies contain provisions allowing an insurer to take the sworn testimony of one or all insured. This is a contractual provision and some courts have held that an insured’s failure to comply results in a breach of contract and the insurer will owe nothing for the claim. In our experience, in the vast majority of claims where an insurer requests such an examination, the insurer suspects fraud, either in the occurrence of the loss (such as arson), the claim (exaggerated) or the application (misrepresentation, concealment, etc.). In substance, if the policy so requires, you must attend the examination and bring the documents which you are reasonably required to bring. An examination under oath is usually a several hour ordeal where you are questioned, under oath (a court reporter typically records the proceeding) about a broad range of issues. The examination is often conducted by an attorney representing the insurance company. Do not go to an examination under oath without competent, experienced legal counsel.

Q. The adjuster introduced me to a contractor who could repair my home. Does this mean that the insurance company is supervising or standing behind the repairs?

A. No. It is not unusual for insurance companies to have relationships with contractors who provide repair estimates to insurers. Please understand that quite often, the same contractor provides estimates to insurance companies over and over again on various losses. This creates a relationship where the contractor is relying upon the insurance company for future income and sometimes the contractor’s estimates reflect this relationship. If you are introduced to a contractor by your adjuster, please further understand that when the smoke clears, you may find that you have executed an “authorization for repair”, which is a contract between you and the contractor, leaving the insurance company out of the mix. If the contractor then does shoddy work or if he attempts to repair a structure which can’t be repaired (damaged more than 50%, etc.) you may find your only remedy is against the contractor. Your insurance company will claim that you entered into a separate contract with the contractor over which the insurer has no control. Bottom line; make sure to always do your homework on contractors before you hire them, especially if the insurance company wants you to use a particular contractor.


Bankruptcy FAQs

Do I have to Qualify for Bankruptcy?

Depending on the size of your household and income, you may qualify for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy or have to file under Chapter 13. Do not rely on what you have heard from non-Bankruptcy attorneys; schedule an appointment now for a free consultation with an experienced Bankruptcy attorney.

What is the difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

If you qualify for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, your unsecured debt – credit cards, medical bills, personal loans and contractual obligations (cell phone bill, gym membership etc…) will be discharged. If you intend to keep secured debt, car, house, boat etc…, you have the option of either continuing to make the payments or surrendering the property and eliminating the debt. Generally a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is a 3-4 month process.

I need to file for bankruptcy but my Spouse doesn’t. Can I file alone?

Yes. Whatever debts are in your name will be discharged. If your spouse is named on any debt with you then he/she will solely be responsible for the entire amount of the debt. Ex: If you share a credit card, and you file for Bankruptcy, you will no longer be responsible for the debt but your spouse will. Your spouses name and social security number will not appear on the Bankruptcy Petition when you file alone, but their income must be reported because it is part of the household.

Can I get a Credit Card after Bankruptcy?

Yes. Typically you can quality for a low-balance credit card within a few months after filing for bankruptcy. Also, your credit can increase as much as 100-150 points within the first year after filing Bankruptcy, depending on your credit score at the time of filing. It is important that you pay your bills on time, especially your mortgage, and do not fall behind on payments. If you handle your credit card responsibly, you can often quickly improve your credit score.

How long will my Bankruptcy take? Will My home be Protected?

Every case is different, the typical Chapter 7 bankruptcy takes roughly 3-4 months from start to finish. During this time, creditors have to stop contacting you and must communicate with you through us. In Florida your homestead (principle residence) is protected as long as you continue to make your mortgage payments and even if it is paid off. If you are facing foreclosure, filing for bankruptcy may delay the foreclosure process.

Need More Information?
If you would like additional information regarding bankruptcy and how we can help you, contact Alonso & Perez LLP today for immediate, personal service.

Hurricane Loss FAQs

A policy of insurance is a contract. Like other contracts, the terms of the policy dictate the rights of the contracting parties, except when a statute overrides the language of the policy. It is therefore difficult, if not impossible, to provide answers which are correct in all circumstances. This information is intended to be a general guide, not an absolute statement of your rights.

Q. My house was damaged by a hurricane; what is my first step?

A. Contact representatives of all carriers insuring your home. Unlike fire and most other losses, hurricane damage to your home may be caused by different forces; these are, generally, wind and flood water. The manner by which your home is damaged is important because different insurers insure different risks. However, you should never fail to call, for example, your windstorm insurer because it appears that only flood damaged your home. To be safe, put all potential insurers on notice, and confirm in a letter to them. Also, take reasonable steps to protect your property from further damage, and, if possible, have a contractor inspect your property and prepare an estimate on the scope and cost of repairs.

Q. I contacted my insurer several weeks ago, but have not heard from anyone . . . what should I do?

A. This is inexcusable conduct by an insurer. Insurers have catastrophe plans and should be prepared for storms causing widespread damage. You may wish to consult with an attorney or a public adjuster, or both.

Q. Can I depend on my insurance agent for assistance?

A. Maybe. If your claim falls under your normal homeowner’s policy, your agent may be able to assist you. Remember, most insurance agents are in the business of selling insurance policies. They are typically not in the business of adjusting claims or making determinations of coverage under policies.

Q. How long does the insurance company have to pay my claim?

A. Most insurance policies have a provision which states a time frame for payment of claims. But the law requires that the insurance company make a decision to cover the loss or not within 90 days. Be aware, that the insurance company may have longer than 90 days if, by no fault of their own, they are not able to investigate the loss adequately within the initial 90 days. If you submit a sworn statement in proof of loss (a sworn to statement reflecting the cause of loss and the amount claimed) seeking a certain amount of money and the insurance company doesn’t agree, there is nothing about the foregoing provision which indicates that you must be paid. However, if the insurance company disagrees with your numbers, it does not seem likely that any court would require the insurance company to pay simply because you have filed a proof. Beware of individuals (even lawyers) who tell you that an insurance company is required to pay within a time certain if there has been no final judgment, appraisal award, or agreement.

Q. Is the insurance carrier required to give me an advance?

A. The answer under the vast majority of policies is “no.” Many insurance companies do give you an additional living expense (“ALE”) advance (usually indicated as a personal property payment) so that you can find a place to stay immediately after the storm event, assuming that your house is not livable. Unfortunately, some insurance companies seek to avoid this by decreeing that your house is livable even if it doesn’t have basic plumbing and electricity. This is usually the work of your adjuster or his or her supervisor. If this happens, you should seek professional advice immediately. However, remember that where additional living expense coverage is available, it is typically an “incurred” coverage which means you must first spend the money or obligate yourself to spend the money before the insurance company is obligated to pay it. You must also remember that the policy must have additional living expense coverage and that the loss which damaged your home is covered under the policy providing the coverage. Finally, under almost all policies, the ALE benefits are limited. If you exhaust your ALE benefits too quickly, you may have none left while your home is being repaired.

Q. What kind of adjusters are working hurricane claims?
A. In widespread losses such as hurricanes, you will probably find the following adjusters in the field:
1. Company adjusters. These people are employees of the insurance company and are typically licensed as adjusters in Florida (although they may be on temporary duty from another state).
2. Independent adjusters. These are adjusters who adjust for a living, and although they are called “independent”; in fact they are contracted to work for the insurance company, not you.
3. Catastrophe (or “cat”) adjusters. The background of these individuals vary . . . some have little experience . . . some are highly trained. But they all work for the insurance company.
4. SIU adjuster. “SIU” stands for “special investigative unit”. If your adjuster identifies himself/herself as “SIU”, you can be assured that your insurer suspects that you or someone associated with your claim has committed or attempted to commit fraud. In this event, you should immediately seek assistance of competent counsel.
5. Public adjusters. These are licensed adjusters who work for you.
Q. Are all flood insurance policies issued pursuant to the national flood insurance program?

A. No. Some carriers write flood insurance and/or excess flood insurance outside the program. In such cases, these insurers are treated just like any other insurance company. Your agent should be able to assist you in determining whether your flood insurance policy was written pursuant to the national flood insurance program. Any competent attorney or public adjuster should also be able to assist you as well.

Q. My house was damaged/destroyed by some combination of wind and storm surge. Who pays and how much?

A. This is a question which cannot easily be answered without all the facts. For partial losses (no matter when they occurred) and for total losses occurring after June 1, 2005, the damage will be apportioned between your wind and flood coverage. This will initially be done by the adjuster or adjusters assigned to your claim. If the same adjuster is adjusting both your wind and flood claims, be extra cautious. We see this as an irreconcilable conflict of interest, but it is a practice which is widely utilized by the insurance industry with the excuse that there is a shortage of adjusters. How your losses are apportioned is important because your flood coverage may be substantially more restrictive than your wind coverage. You do not have to accept the apportionment made by the wind and flood adjusters. If you have a situation like this, you need to consult with competent counsel or an experienced public adjuster.

Credit Card Defense FAQs

What type of debts can you help me with?
We can help consumers with credit card debt law suits from debt collectors, bill collectors, credit card companies, and their lawyers. We may be able to help in the following situations:
• you have a court summons for a credit card debt law suit
• your wages are garnished from judgment
• a default judgment has been entered
• you missed a court date regarding your credit card lawsuit
• bill collectors are calling about a credit card debt
• you have questions on an outstanding credit card debt you have stopped paying

Should I respond to the lawsuit and tell them why I can’t or did not pay the bill?
No; it doesn’t matter. The inability to pay a debt is no legal defense! If you admit that you owe the debt to them, then your case is effectively over. Call Alonso, Perez & Santos, LLP immediately for a free consultation.

I’m being sued by a company I have never heard of nor borrowed money from. Can they do this to me?
Unfortunately, yes. However, whether they can prove their case is another issue. Often the debt buyer does not have the necessary evidence, nor experience to correctly prove or try their case. Call Alonso, Perez & Santos, LLP immediately for a free consultation.

How do debt buyers or creditors get judgments against consumers if they can’t prove their case?
Because most consumers either do nothing or agree to the debt. Most of the creditors win their lawsuits because the consumer does nothing and the creditor gets a default and wins automatically. Or the consumer writes to the court admitting to the debt and says “I can’t pay it.” Call Alonso, Perez & Santos, LLP immediately for a free consultation.

What is a default judgment?
It is the penalty for not going to your court appointment or not filing a response to your law suit. Call Alonso, Perez & Santos, LLP immediately for a free consultation.

What is a judgment?
A judgment is a legal document from the court which determined who won the case. If the creditor gets a judgment it is usually for a sum of money in the law suit. The judgment also gives the creditor the ability to begin to garnish wages and bank accounts, and to attach the consumer’s assets. Call Alonso, Perez & Santos, LLP immediately for a free consultation.

If my wages are garnished, how much do they take?
25% of your net income or the amount over 30 hours of minimum wage, whichever is less. But, if your weekly net pay (“take home” pay) is $750.00 per week or less, you likely qualify for an exemption from garnishment. But the exemption requires a hearing with a judge and an order issuing the exemption. You may qualify for one of the legal exemptions (head of household, social security, disability, tenancy by the entireties), then the court will order the garnished money returned to you or cease any more money from being taken. Call Alonso, Perez & Santos, LLP immediately for a free consultation.

What if my wages have already been garnished?
While the Florida credit card wage garnishment laws can be complicated, the good news is, it may not be too late. If you can jump through the necessary hoops and prove that you qualify for one of the legal exemptions (head of household, social security, disability, tenancy by the entireties), then the court will order the garnished money returned to you. However, be warned–debt collectors may drag their feet in submitting the order, causing a delay in the return of your money.

How long are judgments enforceable in Florida?
20 years. But these judgments are also dischargeable in bankruptcy. Call Alonso, Perez & Santos, LLP immediately for a free consultation.

What is the debt statute of limitations?
Typically five years from the charge off date. If the debt is beyond the 5 years, and you voluntarily make another payment, you have now just re-started the 5 years statute of limitations. Call Alonso, Perez & Santos, LLP immediately for a free consultation.

Foreclosure Defense FAQs

What is a demand or acceleration letter?
A demand or acceleration letter is sent by a lender to a homeowner when that homeowner goes into default on their mortgage. The lender must send this letter before they are able to proceed with a foreclosure lawsuit for the entire amount of the loan.

Are there alternatives to foreclosure available?
There are a number of foreclosure alternatives available to homeowners, including short sales, deed in lieu of foreclosure, and mortgage/loan modifications. An experienced attorney can assist you in pursuing these options and maximize your chances of a successful outcome.

How long do I have to answer a foreclosure lawsuit (summons and complaint)?
In the state of Florida have only 20 days in which to file a response to a foreclosure lawsuit. After that 20-day period, your options may become very limited. We strongly recommend that you take immediate action to retain an experienced foreclosure defense attorney if you have been served with a foreclosure lawsuit.

Do I have options in my foreclosure, and how do I know if I qualify for any of these alternatives?
Even if you are behind in payments, or have ceased to make payments on your mortgage, you still have options. As we fight against your foreclosure claims in court, you can even stay in your home. This provides our clients with the opportunity of staying in their home, without having to pay mortgage.

Can hiring an attorney give me a better a chance of avoiding foreclosure?
Yes. An experienced foreclosure defense lawyer will be able to provide you with skilled legal representation that can increase your chances of avoiding foreclosure. A lawyer will also be able to provide you with proactive foreclosure alternatives that may save their home.

How long will you be able to stay in the Home before the bank forecloses?
We believe no homeowner should ever leave their home to foreclosure, and we fight hard every day to try and achieve that goal. If you do not defend the foreclosure action, you can be removed from your home rather quickly, if the bank moves quickly. The reality is, with a proper legal defense mounted, and with cooperation of our clients, we expect that it should take a bank years to complete a foreclosure.

Will Bankruptcy stop the foreclosure process?
A Chapter 13 bankruptcy will stop the foreclosure and allow you the opportunity to apply for a loan modification or catch up on past due payments over a 3-5 year period. If you file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, it will usually delay the foreclosure process, but it won’t permanently stop it.

When will I have to leave my house?
You only have to leave you home at the very end of the foreclosure process. Once the foreclosure sale date occurs, there is then a 10 day waiting period before the title to the property changes to the successful bidder. That successful bidder, often the mortgage company themselves, can then send a Sherriff’s Deputy to post a Writ of Possession on the premises, which usually gives the occupants between 24 and 48 hours to vacate the premises. However, there may be ways to stop a foreclosure sale date. This often depends upon how long the case has been pending, and if there are good defenses to the foreclosure action. Having the complaint and all documents in the foreclosure proceeding reviewed is the first step in the process.