The West Orange-based firm has tapped the Florida group for its expertise with flood insurance claims, an area that can be rife with “nuances and pitfalls” after a major storm, said Adam Derman, a leader of the new practice. The need for such a group started to grow in earnest late last month, once the 60-day deadline for filing “proof of loss” submissions was extended to one year for Sandy victims.
“What we’ve learned through that process is there wasn’t a need for us at the beginning,” said Derman, co-chair of Wolff & Samson’s litigation group. “We could always counsel clients on what to do, but really the need comes when they begin to get notices from the insurance company as to how much of their claims are going to be paid.”
The Florida attorneys include Samuel Bearman and Dennis Abbott with the Law Office of Samuel W. Bearman and who have authored a book on flood claims, and James Corrigan with his own practice.
Derman said the Florida attorneys have formed partnerships with firms in Texas, Louisiana and other disaster-stricken regions in recent years. The group contacted Wolff & Samson, and “after a long discussion with them, we thought that we could join together and be a pretty good resource for people.”
He anticipates the new group could be active for at least two or three years based on the window for proof of loss submissions and amendments, he said. Those filings could then lead to appeals, appraisals and litigation, the last of which must be filed within one year.
Other Garden State law firms have also formed storm-related practices in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Duane Morris LLP said it formed an interdisciplinary group centered on post-Sandy economic and community development issues, including infrastructure improvements, future disaster protection and federal and state subsidies.
And just weeks after the storm, Newark-based McCarter & English said it was partnering with FEMA, the New Jersey State Bar Association, and Volunteer Lawyers for Justice to organize pro bono disaster assistance throughout the state.
As with Wolff & Samson, representing property owners who are making disaster claims is a growing niche for law firms. Stuart Price, founder of the Price Law Group, said many clients are storm victims who are shortchanged by adjusters, often because they are contracted by insurance firms and are looking to curry favor with their employers. Some third-party adjusters also are inexperienced or unfamiliar with the market, he said.
“Most property owners have no idea and simply accept the offered check — a small check — regardless of whether or not the amount is correct,” said Price, whose national firm has offices in Woodbridge and Hackensack. “We can get these issues resolved most of the time by bringing in the appropriate experts.”
Price said the firm since Sandy has had “tremendous numbers of inquiries to date” concerning insurance claims. He said the group is shifting resources to the region in anticipation that it will represent several hundred New Jersey clients.
Derman, the Wolff & Samson attorney, said his group has started with four attorneys here and four in Florida. But the 130-member firm can easily add to that team.
“We’re working in conjunction with lawyers in Florida and we’re going to divide the work,” Derman said. “At this point we’re not adding staffing, but because we have a lot of resources here, we have the ability to handle it if this becomes a very large volume.”