Covington & Burling LLP Teams with LAS’ Sandy Relief Staff to Ensure an Elderly Sandy Survivor can Return Home

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

  • The Legal Aid Society

An elderly widow in her mid-80s suffered extensive damage to her home after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on her home, causing damage to her well-maintained roof and blowing off her chimney and TV antenna. The client, who lives alone, was afraid to walk throughout her home since the ceilings were cracking, the roof was leaking, and the walls were increasingly darkening due to water spots. Since 1975, the client had loyally used one homeowners insurance company. She paid her premiums on-time and had never needed to claim any damage to her home.

In December 2012, the client filed a claim with her homeowners insurance company for the first time in 37 years and received a mere $1,200 to repair her home. This was shocking considering that the client had received contractor estimates for the repairs of between $14,000-21,000. She also contacted FEMA but was told that since her home was not flooded she was ineligible for funds.

Finally, in August 2013, the client contacted The Legal Aid Society and was connected with Fazeela Siddiqui, an attorney in the Society’s Sandy Relief Unit. After a FEMA appeal was denied, Fazeela assisted the client in signing up for the City’s “Build it Back” program, in the hopes that it could make the client’s house “whole” – as the Program advertises. She then partnered with pro bono counsel Jennifer Farina from Covington & Burling, LLP to move the legal advocacy forward to help this elderly client.

Jennifer and Fazeela conducted a client home visit in late September 2013 during which they met with the client, inspected the home, and gathered relevant documentation. It was evident that the client had a strong claim and her homeowners insurance carrier should have provided her with much more than $1,200.

Together, the Covington-Legal Aid legal team decided to utilize the Sandy Mediation process announced in February 2013 by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) established a voluntary mediation process for homeowners who want to dispute a Sandy-related insurance claim or are dissatisfied with denials of their Sandy-related claims. Although not binding on the homeowner and not requiring a waiver of the homeowner’s other legal rights, mediations can provide quick, low-cost resolutions for both parties. Jennifer used her extensive insurance expertise to highlight the significant issues in the client’s case that could result in litigation against the insurance company.

Held on the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, the mediation provided an opportunity for the legal team, the client, the State DFS mediator and two insurance company representatives to sit face-to-face in a room and discuss all relevant issues confidentially for three hours. The collaboration of Covington and The Legal Aid Society resulted in a settlement of $26,500 for the client, which will now allow her to repair the home in which she has lived for nearly 40 years.