Hurricane Michael: The Florida Bar Shares Legal Resources and Information Ahead of the Storm
Tallahassee, FL – As Northwest Florida continues preparations in advance of Hurricane Michael, The Florida Bar wants to share essential information and guidance for those who may be affected by the storm. The safety and security of all Floridians is the utmost concern, which is why the Bar urges everyone to take precaution and follow any instruction set forward by local enforcement agencies.
The Florida Bar offices will be closed beginning Tuesday, Oct. 9 through Thursday Oct. 11. Please check the Florida Supreme Court webpage for updates on all court closures and tolling orders. The Florida Bar website will also be updating information as we receive it.
The Florida Bar’s consumer guide provides information for consumers on who to contact for legal assistance and how to protect their legal rights in the event of a mass disaster. The following are additional resources that Floridians can access to help protect them and their families before, during and after a storm.
Florida Free Legal Answers
Attorneys can be an invaluable help to many in need, both before and after a storm passes. Hundreds of attorneys in Florida have already signed up to volunteer through Florida Free Legal Answers, a cooperative effort between The Florida Bar and the American Bar Association. The program operates as an online advice clinic to match low-income Floridians with licensed attorneys who can answer basic legal questions. The Florida Bar has requested a temporary increase of the qualifying cap so that Floridians can access the site and post questions relating to Hurricane Michael, and have them answered by licensed attorneys. After the storm passes a ‘Hurricane Michael’ category for issues related to the storm will open.
FEMA Legal Assistance Hotline
After Hurricane Michael makes landfall and upon notification by The Federal Emergency Management Agency, a toll-free legal aid hotline for low-income hurricane victims in afflicted areas will be activated. The service, which is a partnership between The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division, will provide qualifying residents with storm-related legal help across a range of topics. These include assistance with securing FEMA and other benefits; assistance with life, medical and property insurance claims; help with home repair contracts and contractors; replacement of wills and other important legal documents destroyed in the storm; assistance with consumer protection matters; and counseling on landlord/tenant problems.
Florida citizens should use caution and good judgment in any emergency, particularly when dealing with representatives of insurance companies or direct contact from lawyers. Any contact by a lawyer or a lawyer’s representative in person or by telephone asking to handle a specific case is a direct violation of The Florida Bar’s disciplinary rules unless the injured party has asked the lawyer to contact them. Only a lawyer can give legal advice and provide legal services. Florida Bar rules also prohibit a lawyer from writing or e-mailing within 30 days of an accident unless they have been specifically asked to provide information. To report an unlawful contact or the unlicensed practice of law, please contact The Florida Bar by calling toll free (866) 352-0707.
Unethical Conduct & Price Gouging
Hurricanes and other natural disasters can unfortunately increase incidents of fraud, which is why it is important to stay alert. Attorney General Pam Bondi has already activated Florida’s price gouging hotline for all consumers in Florida. State law prohibits extreme increases in the price of essential commodities, such as food, water, hotels, ice, gasoline, lumber and equipment, needed as a direct result of an officially declared emergency. Anyone who suspects price gouging during this declared state of emergency should report it to the Attorney General’s Office by calling 1-866-9-NO-SCAM. Any problems with an insurance company can be directed to the Office of the Attorney General of Florida at (866) 966-7226 or the Florida Department of Financial Services at (800) 342-2762. Those who feel they have been unfairly treated by a lawyer should contact The Florida Bar’s Attorney Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) at (866) 352-0707. The Florida Bar is responsible for prosecuting unethical lawyers for sanctions to be imposed by the Supreme Court of Florida.
The Florida Offices of Insurance Regulation provides an insurance resources webpage with useful information and links including consumer alerts, links to other state agencies and hurricane claims data information. Call the insurance consumer hotline (877) 693-5236.