Category: Louisiana

UM Waiver Completed by Insured’s Assistant Found Invalid

Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (“UM coverage”) is included in all automobile liability policies by Louisiana law unless the insured “rejects [UM] coverage, selects lower limits, or selects economic only coverage.”  What constitutes an adequate rejection of UM coverage has been the crux of countless lawsuits across the state. Recently, in Havard v. Jeanlouis, et al, 2021-C-00810 (La. 6/29/22), the Louisiana Supreme Court examined the validity of a corporate representative’s signature in the context of execution of a UM waiver form. Louisiana courts have found that without a valid signature, UM coverage generally may not be waived.  

The Havard court recognized that a corporation cannot “sign” its own name, and that an authorized representative must act on its behalf. Under the facts of this case, an administrative assistant attempted to execute a UM waiver form at the corporate representative’s direction with a stamp of the representative’s signature. The plaintiff argued that the use of the stamp did not meet the requirements for proper execution of the UM waiver form at issue. 

Considering these facts, the court noted that Louisiana law of mandate provides that “when the law prescribes a certain form for an act, a mandate authorizing the act must be in that form.” The court continued: “Accordingly, where one individual signs a UM form on behalf of another individual and authority is not conferred by law, our Civil Code requires this authority be in writing.”

While the corporate representative in Havard verbally instructed his administrative assistant to complete the waiver with his signature stamp, no written mandate existed between the representative and the assistant to confirm this authority. Absent the written mandate, the court disregarded the express intention of the corporate representative and held the form invalid.

The court recognized the impracticality of its holding. However, it also commented “Concerns over the practical impact within the insurance industry in scrutinizing stamped signed UM forms are unavailing. Inconvenience is not absurdity. The insurer has the authority, opportunity, and responsibility to assure the UM form is completed properly. … Practical considerations regarding increased due diligence requirements are matters of policy best directed to the legislature.”

Cases involving UM waiver forms are fact-sensitive. Havard involved unique facts where the company’s authorized agent did not sign the UM waiver form personally. While Havard may be limited to its facts, it reminds that proper execution of a UM waiver form is necessary for UM coverage to be properly waived.

Louisiana Supreme Court Provides Updated Guidance on Execution of UM Waiver Forms

Louisiana Court Considers Defamation in Context of “New Media”

The country was recently captivated by the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial, arguably the most high-profile defamation case in recent history. Following a colorful trial, a Virginia jury found that a 2018 Washington Post op-ed by Heard defamed Depp. As a result, Depp was awarded $10 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages. At the same time, the jury awarded Heard $2 million dollars in compensatory damages for defamatory statements made by one of Depp’s attorneys, ostensibly on Depp’s behalf. The trial had millions of people asking a number of different questions, including the basic question “What is defamation?” Recent Louisiana cases such as Yanong v. Coleman, 53-933 (La. App. 2 Cir. 5/17/21), 317 So. 3d 905, 911, reh’g denied (June 24, 2021), writ denied, 21-01107 (La. 11/10/21), 326 So. 3d 1249 help to provide an answer.

As explained in Yanong, a party claiming defamation in Louisiana must prove four elements:

(1) a false and defamatory statement concerning another;

(2) an unprivileged publication to a third party;

(3) fault (negligence or greater) on the part of the publisher; and

(4) resulting injuries.

**To prove the third element of “fault,” malice must be shown.

The Yanong court explained that claims of defamation must be balanced against the right to free speech found in the state and federal Constitutions.

Louisiana recognizes two categories of defamatory words: (1) words that are defamatory per se and (2) words that are defamatory in meaning. Id. at 9. Words that are defamatory per se “expressly or implicitly accuse another of criminal conduct, or which by their very nature tend to injure one’s personal or professional reputation, without considering extrinsic facts or circumstances.” Id. When words are deemed defamatory per se, there is a presumption of fault on the part of the defendant that may be rebutted by showing that the statement was true or protected by a privilege such as fair commentary on a matter of public concern. Id. Words that are defamatory in meaning are words that, when taken in context, “a listener could have reasonably understood the communication to have been intended in a defamatory sense.” Id. at 9-10. Proof of words that are defamatory in meaning creates no presumption of fault.

Louisiana defamation suits frequently arise in the employment context. However, defamation claims in the employment context face obstacles. Such cases sometimes fail on the second element, publication to a third party, because “inter-corporate communications…[are] merely a communication of the corporation itself,” meaning an employer may need to communicate the alleged defamatory statement to an outside third party outside for it to be considered “published to a third party.” Cook v. Par. Of Jefferson, 2022 WL 19350, at *11 (E.D. La. Jan. 3, 2022). However, defamation claims do not always fail on the publication element and they are not limited to “A-list” celebrities or multi-million dollar cases.

In Yanong, the Louisiana Second Circuit affirmed a $15,000 compensatory damage award to a plaintiff who successfully proved that statements made by defendants on a podcast show and on Facebook were defamation per se. Yanong, p. 8. Under the facts of the case, the defendants on a live “podcast” expressed on multiple occasions their belief that the plaintiff was a victim of sex-trafficking and that she was purchased by her much-older husband. Id. at 1. The defendant(s) also labeled the plaintiff’s marriage as “legalized prostitution,” and stated that they had contacted foreign authorities to inform them the plaintiff was a victim of “trafficking.” Id. at 2. The statements continued onto social media, where one defendant insinuated the plaintiff’s husband purchased her from a catalogue or an internet matchmaking site. Id.

On appeal, the defendants argued the plaintiff did not prove the publication element of her case. Id. at 5. The appellate court found this contention meritless. The defendants “were fully aware they were engaging” in communications with third parties, they were recoding a podcast, were “shown onscreen on all the broadcasts,” and made comments that showed “they were aware that they had an audience and third parties were engaged in the interactive broadcast.” Id. at 17-19. Thus, the Second Circuit found Plaintiff met her burden on the publication element and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. Id. at. 20.

While the publication element can present a hurdle in some cases, the publication need not be in a national media source as featured in the Depp-Heard case. The Yanong decision reminds that statements made on social media and podcasts can meet the required standard.

A Decade Old Article Finds New Life: Televised Testimony – Keogh Cox.

Louisiana Supreme Court Now Allows Direct Negligence Claims Against Employer

In a previous blog, we outlined developing law in the Louisiana appeals courts, and federal district courts in Louisiana on the issue of whether a claimant may maintain a separate cause of action against an employer for independent negligence when it is stipulated that the employee was in the course and scope of employment.1 Most courts held a claimant could not maintain a separate action against the employer under these circumstances, reasoning that the employee’s fault would impute to the employer, and therefore, additional inquiry was not appropriate. However, the Louisiana Supreme Court recently addressed the issue and stated:

“(A) plaintiff may pursue both a negligence cause of action against an employee for which the employer is vicariously liable and a direct claim against the employer for its own negligence in hiring, supervision, training, and retention as well as a negligent entrustment claim, when the employer stipulates that the employee was in the course and scope of employment at the time of the injury.” (Emphasis added) See Martin v. Thomas et al., 21-1490 (La. 12/21/21), 328 So. 3d 1164.

This holding notably overturned the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruling in Elee v. White, – – So.3d – – (La. App. 1 Cir 7/24/20), 2020 WL 4251974 and other Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decisions. The Supreme Court in Martin reasoned that “the initial assessment of fault required by the law is not bypassed due to the employer-employee relationship” and “shielding a potential tortfeasor from liability is not compatible with a comparative negligence regime.” The Court further stated that the possibility that both the employee and employer may be at fault is not “subsumed” by the employer’s admission on course and scope. In fact, if the fault of the employee is shown, then the issue of whether there is also fault on the part of the employer remains and must be decided by the evidence on a case-by-case basis.

The consequences of this decision remain to be seen, but it is expected that claimants may also pursue employers separately on theories such as negligent hiring, supervision, and entrustment. The scope of such discovery will remain within the sound discretion of the trial judge.

By: John P. Wolff, III and Richard W. Wolff

1Louisiana Appeal Courts Prohibit Direct Negligence Claims Against Employer; US District Court Uses Rule to Limit Discovery – Keogh Cox

Personal Liability of an LLC Member – Can an Informal Contract Create Liability?

Limited liability companies (“LLCs”) are usually formed with the goal of protecting its members from personal liability for the actions of the LLC. Under Louisiana law, there is a “presumption” that the members of an LLC are not personally responsible for the liabilities of the LLC.  However, a recent Third Circuit decision highlights how an LLC member may be exposed to personal liability for performance of a contract when the LLC’s name is not displayed on the contract.    

In Bourque v. Bergeron, 2021-108 (La. App. 3 Cir. 12/1/21), 331 So. 3d 1089, the plaintiff filed suit against his contractor seeking damages from allegedly defective work. The contractor filed a motion to dismiss the claims against him individually, arguing that he was acting on behalf of his LLC and therefore had no personal liability. In support of his motion, the contractor introduced evidence that: (1) the contractor was the sole member of the LLC; (2) the required contracting license was in the name of the LLC; and (3) plaintiff’s checks were deposited into the LLC’s financial accounts.

The plaintiff argued that he contracted with the contractor individually, and the contractor did not represent that he was acting on behalf of an LLC. The proposal and invoices listed a business name, but did not indicate the business was an LLC. The trial court granted the contractor’s motion, finding the evidence showed the plaintiff was dealing with the LLC, and not the contractor individually.  

On appeal, the Third Circuit recognized the general rule that an LLC member is not personally liable for acts committed by the LLC. However, it found an LLC member can be personally liable when they fail to disclose that the member is contracting on behalf of the LLC. The court noted that the proposal/invoice did not reflect the LLC’s involvement – it only included a business name along with the contractor’s individual name and address. Simply including a business name was not sufficient to alert plaintiff he was contracting with an LLC as opposed to an individual with a tradename. The Third Circuit reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the personal liability claims, finding issues of fact as to whether the contractor disclosed that he was acting on behalf of the LLC, which opened the door for potential personal liability for the LLC member.

This case shows that LLC members can create personal liability if they do not express that the LLC is the true party to the contract.  

Louisiana Court Limits Use of Biomechanical Expert Testimony

The use of biomechanical expert testimony in Louisiana courts has evolved over the last few years. A recent decision from the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal provides an example of the changing standards for the admissibility of biomechanical expert testimony and its relation to medical causation.

In Pollard v. 21st Century Centennial Ins. Co., 21-65 (La. App. 5 Cir. 12/23/21), 334 So. 3d 1013, writ denied, 2022-00163 (La. 4/20/22), the defendants argued that the underlying accident involved a minor rear-end impact not likely to cause injury. The defendants hired a biomechanical expert who was also a medical doctor. The expert performed an “impact severity analysis” to determine the force of impact in the collision.

The expert concluded that the accident involved a minimum damage collision; he relied upon the “force reflection method” and test data at his crash test facility to determine how fast the rear-ending vehicle would have traveled to cause the damage present on the plaintiff’s vehicle. Based upon his findings, the expert opined that the plaintiff was not seriously injured in the collision. He went further to testify that specific injuries could not have been caused by the forces involved.

The Fifth Circuit noted the same expert was previously excluded in a case that went to the Louisiana Supreme Court in Blair v. Coney, 2019-00795 (La. 4/3/20), reh’g denied, 2019-00795 (La. 7/9/20), 298 So. 3d 168, where the Court found the expert’s testimony to be based upon insufficient facts or data. In Blair, the Supreme Court found the expert’s testimony should be excluded because he did not (1) inspect either vehicle involved in the collision; (2) speak with the damage appraisers; (3) know the plaintiff’s body position at the time of the accident; (4) inspect plaintiff’s vehicle for variance from the test-vehicle or (5) interview the plaintiff.  Thus, his testimony failed to meet the requirements of C.E. art. 702(A)(2). 

Citing the Blair decision, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit in Pollard concluded that the expert “relied on the same [improper] methodology in reaching his conclusions.” Therefore, the appellate court found the trial court erred in denying a motion in limine to exclude the expert’s testimony. Although the expert cited to peer-reviewed literature to support his conclusions, the evidence revealed that “most of the research and articles” he cited were either written by him or one of his employees.

Effective January 1, 2021, Louisiana amended La. R.S. 32.295.1, which now allows the admission of a plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt as a factor to be considered in comparative fault. Defendants will seek to use biomechanical experts to prove that the failure to use a seatbelt substantially caused or contributed to the damages.

Biomechanical testimony may be allowed. However, as shown in Pollard, biomechanical opinions which lack sufficient inquiry to match the analysis to the real-world impact will be treated with skepticism. Taking Blair and Pollard together, the courts appear to resist expert biomechanical opinions which seek to definitively resolve medical causation which often involves subjective elements and credibility determinations reserved for the trier of fact.

It is certain that defendants will continue to advance the “low impact” argument because force-of-impact testimony is a relevant factor in determining causation or extent of injuries. See, e.g., Merrells v. State Farm Mutual Auto, Ins. Co., 33-404 (La. App. 2 Cir. 6/21/00), 764 So. 2d 1182. What is less than certain is the role of the biomechanical expert. Following the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Pollard, the Louisiana Supreme court denied the defendant’s writ application 4 to 3, with all three dissenters advising they would have granted the writ. Issues surrounding the use and scope of testimony from biomechanical experts appear far from settled.

Insurance Coverage for “Temporary Substitute Autos” in Louisiana

Louisiana insurance law recognizes a practical problem faced by many: the need to obtain alternative transportation when the car won’t start. Under La. R.S. 22:1296, any insurance on your personal vehicle must also extend to vehicles that are used as “temporary substitute autos.”

The statute provides that a car’s status as a “temporary substitute auto” depends on how the term is defined in the particular auto policy at issue. However, some rules typically apply to determine whether the auto is a “temporary substitute.” First, the use must be temporary, i.e. limited in duration. Second, the car must be a substitute for the auto insured under the policy and used for the same purpose. Third, policies typically limit coverage to substitute vehicles that the driver does not own.

Some policies also limit coverage by requiring that the substitution be needed for a purpose identified in the policy, such as the breakdown, repair, or destruction of the covered auto.

While the statute generally defers to the definition of “temporary substitute auto” provided in the policy, sometimes courts will overrule the insurer’s definition. For instance, in State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Safeway Insurance Company, 50-098 (La. App. 2 Cir. 9/30/15), 180 So.3d 450, the relevant policy defined a “temporary substitute auto” as a substitute for the owned auto when the owned auto was “being serviced or repaired by a person engaged in the business of selling, repairing, or servicing motor vehicles.” The case involved a motor vehicle accident that occurred while the policy holder operated a borrowed vehicle but before she brought her usual vehicle to a mechanic.

Citing the terms of the policy, the insurer denied coverage on grounds that the policy required the “temporary substitute auto” not only take the place of the driver’s usual vehicle, but also that the driver take the car to a mechanic before coverage would extend to the substitute vehicle. However, the court found this requirement to be against the public policies behind La. R.S. 22:1296 and found coverage under the policy extended to the borrowed vehicle.

To Be or Not To Be Specific—Fact Pleading in Louisiana

Louisiana is a fact-pleading state. Accordingly, Louisiana law requires that a petition contain “a short, clear and concise statement of all causes of action and material facts arising out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of the litigation.”  See La. C.C.P. art. 891. Generally, the pleader must state what act or omission he will establish at trial. Legal conclusions disguised as factual allegations do not meet the pleading standards required by Louisiana law.

This concept recently was examined in Henderson v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 2021-0654 (La. App. 4 Cir. 12/17/21), 2021 WL 7162224, where the court considered bad faith allegations the plaintiff tried to assert against an insurer in his petition for damages. At the time of the underlying accident, the plaintiff was a passenger in a Lyft vehicle that was struck by an unknown driver. Steadfast Insurance Company was the Lyft driver’s insurer, and the plaintiff named Steadfast as a defendant to recover damages under its policy.

The plaintiff later amended his petition to seek uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits under the Steadfast policy. He also sought penalties from Steadfast for alleged bad faith and dealing in its insurance practices. In turn, Steadfast filed an exception of no cause of action, arguing that plaintiff’s petition only contained legal conclusions and not specific facts, which were insufficient to support a cause of action. The trial court overruled the exception.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the decision. Plaintiff’s amended petition alleged that Steadfast “refused to deal with him in good faith, including but not limited to, refusing to issue unconditional (McDill) tenders and taking actions in violation of La. R.S. 22:1892 and La. R.S. 22:1973.” The plaintiff also generally alleged the insurer acted “arbitrarily, capriciously and without probable cause” in its failure to pay money under its policy.

The Court noted that the plaintiff’s allegations were legal conclusions asserted as facts, which could not be considered as well-pleaded factual allegations for purposes of a no cause of action. Importantly, the court reiterated that a court may not consider legal conclusions “clothed as facts,” citing Hooks v. Treasurer, 06-0541, p. 10 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/4/07), 961 So.2d 425, 431-32.  Accordingly, the plaintiff’s allegations, absent additional information, were insufficient to state a cause of action. The plaintiff failed to state specific actions or omissions that would be established at trial. Hence, he failed to state a cause of action.

Renewed or Was it New? Dispute over UM Coverage in Auto Policy

Louisiana law requires UM coverage in automobile liability insurance policies in the same amount as the policy’s bodily injury liability coverage. UM coverage will be included in the policy unless the insured rejects UM coverage, selects lower limits, or selects economic-only coverage. This rejection, selection of lower limits, or selection of economic-only coverage must be made on a form prescribed by the commissioner of insurance and must be signed by the insured or its legal representative. See La. R.S. 22:1295. If a rejection form is not completed, UM coverage will be read into the policy. However, a valid UM waiver form executed for a policy of insurance remains in effect when that policy is renewed with a few exceptions. Generally, execution of a new waiver form is not required unless a new policy is issued or the liability limits increased. These basic principles were considered in the recent First Circuit decision in Johnson, et al. v.  Bass, Geico General Ins. Co., and GoAuto Management Services, LLC, 2021 CA 0139 (La. App. 1 Cir. 12/22/21).

In Johnson, the plaintiff obtained a policy of insurance from GoAuto on July 17, 2015 and validly rejected UM coverage on the commissioner’s UM rejection form. The plaintiff renewed the policy multiple times and also completed an “Application for Personal Automobile Insurance” on February 23, 2018 to add her husband and an additional vehicle to the policy. 

The Johnson plaintiff was in a motor vehicle accident on November 26, 2019 and claimed UM benefits under the policy. She argued that the insurance application she completed in February 2018 to add a new driver and a new vehicle to the policy created a new policy of insurance that required completion of a new UM waiver form. Because a new UM waiver form was not executed in February 2018, the plaintiff argued that UM coverage should be read into the policy. Thus, the question posed to the court was whether the 2018  policy became new or was simply a renewal. The trial court found that the policy was a renewal and dismissed the UM claim.

The First Circuit affirmed and rejected the plaintiff’s argument holding, “the language of La. R.S. 22:1295 is clear and unambiguous; only changes in the ‘limits of liability’ to an existing policy will create a new policy that requires the completion of a new UM selection form.” Despite multiple renewals, the liability limits of the policy did not change from the date it was issued through the date of the accident. Importantly, the limits also did not change when the new driver and vehicle were added to the policy in February 2018. Thus, no new policy was created. The original rejection of UM coverage remained in effect, and the plaintiff’s claims against her alleged UM insurer were dismissed.

Hurricane Ida: Louisiana Department of Insurance Implements Mediation Program

In the wake of Hurricane Ida, the Louisiana Department of Insurance (LDI) implemented a mediation program to assist policy holders with disputed insurance claims. Effective October 18, 2021, the program was implemented to assist in the prompt and reasonable settlement of disputed insurance claims.

The program is open to all authorized property and casualty insurers, as well as all surplus line insurers for personal lines residential insurance claims up to $50,000.00. Both the insurer or policyholder can submit a written request for mediation; the opposing party is free to accept or deny the invitation. If initially denied, the parties are free to later opt to participate.

If both parties agree to mediation, a mediator will be assigned and within 30 days a mediation will be scheduled at a local Mediation & Arbitration Professional Systems (MAPS) or Perry Dampf Dispute Solutions location in the Baton Rouge or New Orleans area. The initial mediation session allows for 90-minutes; however, parties are allowed to continue the mediation beyond the initial session at the agreement of the mediator.

The mediation program is free to all policyholders and a $600 fee is assessed to the insurer for the first 90-minute mediation session. If the parties and mediator agree to continue the mediation beyond the initial 90-minute session, additional fees will be assessed for the mediator’s services. The parties are to determine among themselves who will be responsible for the additional costs.  

The parties are required to provide all relevant documentation to the assigned mediator and a detailed explanation of the claim and any obstacles to resolution. The policyholder can represent themselves or through counsel. They are even encouraged to bring knowledgeable individuals such as adjusters, appraisers, or contractors.

If a resolution is reached, even just partial, both parties will reduce the agreement to writing and sign the agreement. The insurer will be required to furnish any required payment to the policyholder within ten (10) days of signing the agreement. If the parties only reach a partial agreement, they will be permitted to continue to use the mediation services and schedule future mediation dates.

At this time, the program is scheduled to continue through June 30, 2022.

What ifs….. Indemnifying Premises Liability Exposure

If you are a property owner, stop and think about the “what ifs” before you enter into a lease with a property manager or lessee. For example, what if an invitee of the property that you own is hurt while on and/or because of a condition on the property? Who is responsible?

A property owner may be able to transfer its potential liability to a property manager or lessee of the property if the lease contains an indemnification provision. However, not all indemnification provisions are enforceable, and these critical provisions are often litigated.

The Eastern District Court of Louisiana recently enforced an indemnification provision, granting  summary judgment to a landowner who sought indemnification from its property lessee in Avila v. Village Mart, LLC, Civ. A. No. 20-1850, 2021 WL 4439579 (E.D. La. 9/28/21). In the case, a shopping center leased retail space to a men’s store. Before the store opened, a painter was injured when he fell from a ladder. The owner of the shopping center argued that the lessee owed a defense. It argued indemnity applied because the plaintiffs’ claims arose out of the lessee’s buildout construction, over which the owner did not have any care, custody, or control.

In response, the lessee argued that the owner was not entitled to indemnification because the plaintiffs’ claims did not “arise out of or were connected with Tenant’s use, occupancy, management or control of the Leased Premises.” The lessee claimed that it was not using, occupying, managing, or controlling the leased space because the only permitted use of the space was to sell menswear, and the space was not being used for this purpose at the time of the accident.

Louisiana courts often apply a “but for” causation test to such “arising out of” language in indemnity provisions.  Avila, 2021 WL 4439579, at *5, citing Kan. City S. Ry. Co. v. Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., No. 06-03, 2010 WL 1293340, at *6 (W.D. La. Mar. 29, 2010), and Perkins v. Rubicon, Inc., 563 So.2d 258, 259-60 (La. 1990). The court observed the lessee’s arguments contradicted language in the lease that allowed the lessee to use and occupy the store before it opened to the public. The lease also explained that the lessee was responsible for certain construction work and identified specific dates to begin work and to open the store. Thus, the lease contemplated use and occupancy before the store was open to the public. The court found that the lessee’s possession of the space and its construction obligations under the lease established its use and occupancy of the space. The court stated:

Given the broad language in the indemnity agreement – ‘arising out of or connected with’ – [the plaintiffs’] injuries, resulting from his work as a subcontractor painting the premises leased by [the retail space lessee,] are connected to [its] use and occupancy of the premises. … Because [the retail space lessee] was in possession of the space, and had assumed responsibility for the buildout and for contractors and subcontractors working on the buildout, the Court finds that the plaintiffs’ liability theories fall within the scope of the indemnity provision in the lease.  Avila, 2021 WL 4439579, at *6.

The enforceability of indemnity provisions such as the one examined in Avila will continue to be litigated. In the meantime, Avila reminds us of the importance of sound indemnity language to anticipate the “what ifs.”

Hurricane Ida: Governor Extends Legal Deadlines

We previously reported that the Louisiana Supreme Court issued Orders suspending prescriptive, peremptive and abandonment periods for thirty days in the wake of Hurricane Ida. Governor John Bel Edwards has now issued a Proclamation. In addition to other actions, the Proclamation provides that legal deadlines applicable to “legal proceedings in all courts, administrative agencies, and boards” are suspended until September 24, 2021.

The Proclamation also authorizes hotels and motels to cancel reservations which would result in the displacement or eviction of first responders, health care workers, or anyone performing disaster-related work.

Here Comes Hurricane Ida: What To Do If Your Home is Damaged by a Storm or Flood

Unfortunately, Louisianians have endured many natural disasters in the past several years. From the historic flooding in Baton Rouge in August 2016 to the devastation caused by Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020, Gulf Coast residents are very familiar with significant storms and flooding events. While the rebuilding process will take months or years to complete, this article is designed to provide some basic information on how to document and report your property damage claim and apply for and obtain disaster assistance.

  • DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT – Once you are able to do so, make sure to document the damages to your home and contents.  Whether for a homeowners or flood insurance policy or to obtain government assistance, take plenty of photos of the damage.  Make a list of the items in your home that were damaged or destroyed.  One way to organize this list is to list each item from each room together, approximate its age, where it was purchased and its value when purchased.  As you rebuild, and materials and items are thrown out, it will be much more difficult to document your claim.
  • REPORT YOUR CLAIM – Report your damage to your homeowners or flood insurer as soon as possible.  Provide as much detail about the damage as you can. If you are unaware of your insurer, contact your insurance agent who can help you to report your claim.
  • OBTAIN MULTIPLE ESTIMATES – Although it is often difficult to do so after a natural disaster because of the volume of work, obtain multiple estimates for the work needed on your home.  Pay for the estimate if necessary.  If you have three estimates and the amounts are close, they are much more credible.  Also, try and get as much detail as possible in each estimate, including specific materials to be used, dimensions, and finishes.
  • SAVE YOUR RECEIPTS – Whether for repairs you undertake to fix the damage to your home, to replace contents, or for living expenses after the storm, save your receipts.  These receipts will be used to document your losses and verify the amount of your claim to your insurer. 
  • FOLLOW UP WITH YOUR INSURER – Provide whatever is requested by your insurer as they adjust your claim.  Communicate with your insurer on a regular basis. Although it may seem tedious, communication with your insurer during the claim is important.
  • APPLY FOR ASSISTANCE – Especially if your property is not insured, make sure to immediately apply for government assistance.  You can apply for federal assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov.  Oftentimes, the state government will also administer federal or state disaster assistance funds.