El Niño has definitely come to San Diego, and the forecasts show that the next couple of months could continue to be very damp for Southern California. Sadly, the City of San Diego is notorious for not keeping up its aging infrastructure, in particular with regard to Storm Drains and Water Mains. Flooding is all too common. But what should you do if water starts coming in and doing damage to your home or business?
1. Protect Your Family and Your Belongings
Maybe this seems like it should go without saying, but the first step in any flood should be to make sure that yourself and your family are safe and out of danger. Turn off your gas and electricity! Once you’re certain everybody’s safe, it’s a good idea to call San Diego’s 24-Hour Hotline to advise them of the situation, especially if it’s a water main break.
If you can, and it’s safe to do so, it’s also important to do what you can to protect your property. Is there some way to divert the water away from your property (without damaging somebody else’s property)? These things can be hard to predict, but if you think flooding might be likely, it’s always a good idea to keep some sand bags on hand, or try to go get some. Often, you can get sand bags for free from your local fire department. Any valuable, mobile personal belongings should be moved to safety or picked up out of harm’s way, if possible.
Other than protecting yourself and your stuff from harm, there’s a good legal reason to take these precautions. In the event that you find yourself in a legal dispute later, it may be up to you to prove that you did what you could to “mitigate damages” — that is, prevent any damage from taking place, or from being any worse than it had to be. Maybe it would have been impossible to move that big couch that got ruined, but if you just sat there and watched the flood slowly engulf your laptop sitting on the floor, you probably won’t be able to get a new one.
When you’re able to take a breath and you’ve done what you can, take pictures of the damage and take notes about what happened when, what you did to “mitigate” the damage, and who you talked to and when. You might need those pictures and notes to remind you of the specifics if you have to file a claim or lawsuit, and somebody asks you a year or two later.
2. Tell Your Insurance Company
Even if you think your insurance doesn’t cover flooding, it’s important to talk to your insurance company as soon as you can after the flood. A good insurance agent can help guide you through the steps of what to do next and can offer recommendations about companies who can help clean up. They can also help you file a claim with the insurance company. When in doubt, file a claim. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no.
You want to make sure to tell your insurance company as soon as possible not just because they can help, but also because if you delay in telling them about the problem, they may be able to use that delay as a reason to deny your claim. You don’t want to give them that ammunition against you.
If your insurance company isn’t cooperative, and you think they’ve wrongfully denied a claim, it’s probably a good time to call your local Property Attorney.
3. Clean Up
Before you clean up, and while you’re cleaning up, make sure you take lots of pictures (and, if you can, video). You want to document the damage as completely as possible. Remember to keep your gas and electricity off until everything has dried out, and you may want to have SDG&E come out to help make sure everything is okay to go before you turn it back on. Open up all the doors and windows and put out fans to help dry everything out.
Also remember that flood water can contain some seriously gross stuff. Wear gloves! If the damage is bad enough, and has affected sheetrock or the flooring, you may need to call a “flood remediation company.” There are lots of good local companies that can help at relatively reasonable prices.
4. File a Claim With the City
If the damage is because of a improperly-maintained water main, storm drain, or sewage drain, you may be able to get the City of San Diego to pay you back. Once you have a pretty good idea what the damage is going to cost you, it’s time to file a claim against the City.
The most important thing to remember is that you only have six months to do this. If you don’t get the claim on file within six months of the flood, it may permanently keep you from getting anything back from the City.
It’s a good idea to get a qualified, experienced property attorney involved at this point. The attorney can help you make sure the form is filled out correctly, and can help you determine what amount should be claimed, among other things (like whether the insurance company did their job, and if anybody else might be at fault for the damage). That having been said, the most important thing is getting the claim in before the deadline, and the form is relatively simple and freely available. (Sorry, fellow attorneys! It’s the truth.)
5. Talk to a Lawyer
So, you’ve been denied by your insurance company. Your claim’s been rejected by the City. It sounds like it’s time to talk to a local property lawyer with experience in this area. A good attorney can evaluate the specifics of your situation, and give you some options moving forward. Consider giving us a call or dropping us a line. Initial case evaluations of up to one-half hour are always free. Stay dry!
“San Diego Flood,” courtesy of Aaron Fulkerson, published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 License. Thanks, Aaron!