Ralph Moon, PhD, a building scientist with 34+ years of consulting experience has a unique background combining extensive field experience, seminar development and presentation, research and legal services in IAQ, building science and disaster restoration.
Mike Bowdoin, is a Texas attorney with a long history in construction law including significant work with IAQ and restoration professionals. He has been deeply involved in IICRC/ANSI standard development and is the current IAQA Vice President and board member.
Nuggets mined from today’s discussion:
Let’s get your perspectives on how recovery has come along in Texas and Florida? (Ralph, if you have any thoughts on Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands, we would appreciate them?)
Ralph Moon- faced with the challenges of: transportation, accommodations, utility outages, and even whether or not the property remains standing; his firm performed limited work in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. The firm has received modest of claims in the 100’s rather than in the 1,000’s as in prior events. He attributes lower 2017 hurricane related claims volume to more rapid response by insurance companies.
Michael Bowdoin- during Hurricane Harvey (between August 24-30) a year’s amount of rain (50″) fell in 5 days. A native Texan who in his 60+ years hasn’t seen anything like it. Has heard that Hurricane Harvey referred to as a 40,000 year flood event. His mom’s home had 3′ of water. The majority of the mitigation work performed on residential properties has been done by homeowners and volunteers. The area is slowly rebuilding. Skilled labor shortage still exists. Rebuilding costs are up 30%. Isn’t seeing much legal work yet.
Is there a mold rush?
Ralph Moon- Not seeing a predominance of mold claims. The Florida Keys suffered flooding and structural damage the majority of the damage in other areas of Florida are roof damage and wind driven rain claims. Homeowners who mitigated damage by cutting out the lower 4′ of drywall in effected areas may complain later about mold and debris in HVAC systems.
Michael Bowdoin- Not seeing a deluge of mold claims. The vast majority of those effected had not purchased flood insurance. The damage was caused by floodwater not wind driven rain. Parts of west Houston were underwater for 11 days. Limited roof damage claims.
We’ve heard tales of restoration contractors deliberately minimizing their emergency response so as to allow damage to escalate enabling them to gut the areas later due to category 3 microbial contamination. Have you seen or experience this?
Ralph Moon- Not encountering cases of restoration contractors “over-drying”. In a recent deposition the opposing side claimed that water originating from a kitchen sink and flowing into a cabinet was category 3 water. Perhaps this was a strategy to shake things up?
Will 2017’s hurricanes cause future changes in insurance?
Ralph Moon- I’m not a representative of an insurance company. Can’t conceive of significant new changes. The insurance companies will enforce the policies. The policy contains requirements and promises. Policyholders have 60 days to define and describe their damages. When a case winds up with a judge and jury the insurance company tries to persuade the jury while the plaintiff tries to gain the jury’s sympathy. Advises policyholders to just be truthful. Adjusters want to find coverage if it is there.
Dedicated claims personnel: One insurer got 99% of their claims work done within 90 days. Claims staff worked 16 hour days, 7 days a week, living and sleeping on cots in their offices.
Insurance carriers try to balance their risk using geographical distribution.
Michael Bowdoin- The size of the loss was unmanageable. Some kind of creative financial solution will be needed. There was $190 billion dollars in damages in Harris County. Few people in the affected areas of Texas had flood insurance. Renewal insurance policies will have higher rates and a surcharge. In the case of his mom’s home, the insurance company was very responsive, sympathetic, conducted a prompt and thorough examination with good documentation. The amount of water can be found in public records. 136,000 homes were underwater, some for a long time.
Your experience with public adjusters?
Ralph Moon- I’ve seen some good ones and some bad ones. An over aggressive public adjuster, with a signed AOB and a highly inflated damage repair estimate will complicate and slow down the process of making the policyholder whole. The focus should be on the policyholder not on maximizing the payout.
Mike Bowdoin- No pros or cons. Every industry has a place for professionals. I do believe there will be more PA activity than in the past events because few policyholders had flood insurance, PA’s may know where and how to find coverage in the existing policy, and FEMA limits are low. Public adjusting is a well- regulated industry. I’m looking forward to working for them.
How did the infrastructure in your area hold up? Will we see changes in codes, building practices, etc.?
Ralph Moon- homes built before 2000 responded poorly to hurricane winds when compared to homes built after. In Florida, with exception of the Keys, Hurricanes Maria and Irma were wind driven events.
Concerned about the future: Will people moving to Florida know and understand the inherent risks to property, will realtors disclose what areas and neighborhoods were previously effected, will builders build in damage prone areas? Buyers need to be astute and ask the right questions. Some homes in Florida incorporate concrete block into walls on ground level and only deceptively mimic the exterior appearance of concrete block on upper floors. Windows incorporated into the upper floors of homes which mimic concrete block frequently leak.
Mike Bowdoin- Fortunately or unfortunately, there is no zoning in Houston. The flooding in Houston was not a natural event. The flooding was caused by releases of water from reservoirs which caused massive damage downstream. Other contributing factors to causation include: dams built at pinch points, multiple agencies having authority over waterflow volumes and inadequate dredging. With no other direction to go, the water went sideways. Due to previous flooding, flood resistant construction is being used for critical buildings (hospitals, nursing homes, etc.).
Predictions for the future- less new development in the future, less hardscape, maybe some zoning, unification of flood control jurisdiction, redrawing of flood maps, more code enforcement along watersheds and water ways., new levees to protect vulnerable areas, and more dredging of waterways to prevent clogs.
Ralph Moon- On prior weather events, he encountered significant amounts of work performed by out of state contractors that was substandard; not the case in 2017. Perhaps this is due to better regulation and a higher caliber of outside contractors.
Heads-up for restorers: Document your drying. Measure and record moisture content in a reasonable manner. Highlighting a case of a restoration contractor in Georgia who responded to a water damage event and 6 months later the homeowner is now claiming: “we have mold in the house, you were the last person who touched it so you’re responsible”. Ralph was able to prove that after restoration it was the occupants return to prior habits that caused the mold problem.
Mike Bowdoin- In Texas the biggest problems contractors encountered were logistical, the inability to get from place to place and equipment shortages which was only temporary.
Ralph Moon- Industry standards S-500 and S-520 are holding up in court. IICRC certification is the recognized technician training badge.
Mike Bowdoin- While Texas has its own mold regulations, the Texas regulations and the IICRC Standards work well together “hand in glove”.
Emerging legal trends?
Ralph Moon- Attorneys are looking at policy language, policy promises, getting AOB signed and filing large numbers (100s) of lawsuits is the big difference.
Mike Bowdoin- In Houston there is overwhelming evidence that most of the damage was manmade. Contributing factors include: lack of maintenance, deferred dredging, premature release of water from reservoirs in speculative anticipation of events that didn’t happen, etc. Litigation against regulatory agencies is limited by sovereign immunity. Attorneys using inverse condemnation to sue for damages.
Pete Consigli hammered on the restoration industries need to self-regulate citing:
- IAQradio Episode 409, Paul Handerhan- VP Public Policy- Florida Association for Insurance Reform (FAIR). In which Paul detailed how the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters www.fapia.net used peer pressure to cleanup abuses in Florida.
- John Lapotaire is encountering heavy contractor abuses in Florida where unscrupulous contractors are using AOBs and attorneys to abuse policyholders and bilk insurance carriers.
- Rumors of some prominent restoration firms being sucked up into investigations by the Attorney General in Texas
Z-Man signing off
Remembering William Lakin, CR:
Link to Ernie Storrer MLK Award: