That’s why the Bradley County Bar Association has scheduled the new year’s first Community Legal Forum for Thursday, Feb. 20, and with a timely topic, according to Jack Tapper, a Cleveland attorney who has directed the ongoing series of forums since their 2010 inception.
Tapper, the current Bar Association president who traditionally serves as moderator or panelist during the free public debates, has unveiled the topic of next week’s forum: “Homeowners Insurance Terms Explained: What’s Covered and What’s Not! You’d Be Surprised!”
Tapper will be joined at the forum table by fellow panelist Jeff Morelock, a member of the Bradley County Commission who has a long history and extensive background as an insurance professional.
To be held in the Cleveland/Bradley County Public Library, the 90-minute forum will kick off at 7 p.m. It is open to the public and charges no admission.
For the past four years, the Legal Forum series has been sponsored by the Bradley County Law Library Commission. Its membership consists of representatives from the library, the Bar Association and the County Commission.
“The need for this topic became evident when a number of homeowners could not get insurance claims settled promptly after losses and damage from a major storm,” Tapper explained. “These people were surprised and disgruntled at the red tape required by their insurance company.”
Tapper pointed out many were “... denied payment for coverages they thought they had, but didn’t.”
The Cleveland attorney pointed out homeowner’s insurance coverage, and the complexities of filing claims, have long been recognized as a detriment to the industry. However, they surfaced in a big way dating back to the five waves of tornadoes that leveled parts of Bradley County on April 27, 2011, and another twister that split the county on March 2, 2012.
Storm damage from winter ice and strong winds have also created insurance nightmares for home and property owners, he said.
For these reasons, Tapper called the discussion on homeowner’s insurance a “timely one” that can better prepare area residents for storm damage, whether it comes from ice, snow, tornadoes or wind.
“Many people don’t pay attention to what is in their homeowner’s policy until they have a claim, and the discovery of what’s covered and what’s not may be too late,” he stressed.
As a rule governing the Community Legal Forum series, Tapper pointed out they are not a sales tool for any industry — not attorneys nor in this case insurance specialists or their companies. He said the role of panelists — regardless of the forum’s topic — is to help educate the public and to make people better aware of their rights in all facets of life.
Panelists explain terms and they answer questions; however, they do not make personal recommendations on individual cases.
Helping people to understand their homeowner’s policies is a key purpose of next week’s forum.
“This is not, by any means, a sales forum,” Tapper stated. “There is nothing for sale. It is strictly an evening where people can get the information they need to know so they can examine their own insurance coverage and understand what it’s all about.”
He added, “The panelists will take apart a standard homeowner’s insurance policy and explain — in layman’s terms — what each section of a typical policy covers and what it does not.”
One of the most confusing parts of homeowner’s insurance policies is the dollar amount of coverage for each type or category of claim, and how the deductible determines what the insurance company will pay for a claim on loss or damage, he noted.
“We will explain how your coverage amounts actually get applied when the policyholder presents a claim,” Tapper said.
The forum will cover 10 important tips for how a homeowner can prepare for a future claim that can withstand challenges by an insurance company, he cited.
Some of the topics will include:
n How to make an inventory of personal property;
n Techniques to use in creating the inventory and where to store the results;
n How to protect financial information;
n The types of documentation needed for verification and evaluation of personal property losses; and
n What to do when the homeowner “is at wit’s end” because the insurance company delays payment, doesn’t return phone calls and “... piles on a bunch of red tape delays that wear you down for a final compromise.”
Tapper stressed not all insurance companies practice these tactics. Some are people-friendly, he said.
“Not all companies are difficult to deal with, and many are understanding and quick to process claims,” Tapper advised. “Even for people who have an insurance company like that, they should still attend this forum because they need to know about future claims and coverage issues for different types of losses.”
He said in some cases, local residents might not yet have been exposed to certain types of property losses. Attending the coming forum, he said, is being proactive “... by not waiting until it’s too late.”
Tapper added, “This is the public’s chance to find out how to be prepared — insurance-wise — and to be sure your policy covers what you need if you are unfortunate enough to suffer catastrophic damage and losses to your home and personal property.”
In the last four years, many of the Community Legal Forums have been held in front of packed audiences. Normally, it depends on the subject. Tapper believes next week’s forum has the potential for packing the library’s Community Room.
Attendees will be given the chance to interact with panel members and to ask questions. Tapper suggested audience members bring copies of their insurance policies in order to ask questions about the meaning of insurance terms or industry jargon.
Seating for Thursday’s Legal Forum is first-come, first-served. However, Tapper urged area residents planning to attend to register for the event by calling the library at 423-472-2163, ext. 126.
The BCLLC will host two more Legal Forums over the course of the calendar year, Tapper said. Dates and topics will be announced later.
The forums serve as an ongoing public service project of the Bradley County Bar Association, in partnership with the BCLLC and the public library.