Lawyers Have a Unique Opportunity During These Times
I was very surprised to see a picture of my living room inundated with a few feet of water on the cover of the October 1 News. While it is an odd and undesirable way to gain media coverage, it provides me an opportunity to tell my story and raise awareness for those less fortunate affected by Hurricane Irma.
My wife, Whitney, and I went to sleep on Sunday, September 10, somewhat relieved that it appeared Hurricane Irma’s path was heading away from Jacksonville. We were also very worried about our friends across the state, including the Melton family that traveled with their two daughters (four and 11 months), dog, and cat to evacuate from Tampa.
At about 5 a.m. on the morning of September 11, I woke up and realized the water was about one foot from our back doors. By 6 a.m., the water was rising through the floor boards and all four adults, two children, two dogs, and cat retreated upstairs. By 7 a.m., there was 3 to 4 feet of standing water in my living room, with fish jumping near our dining room table. The mayor of Jacksonville was reporting there was an additional 4 to 6 feet of storm surge expected and we, along with our guests, evacuated by canoe, wading, and a good friend with a reliable truck.
Due in part to my experience and my career, we are uniquely equipped to deal with situations like this storm. While I was upstairs and water was rising on my first floor, I was able to file insurance claims, file a FEMA claim, line up a contractor, and find a suitable apartment for my family. By the time the water retreated, a team of professionals was working on my family’s behalf and dozens of friends were assisting us with throwing away furniture, ripping up carpet, and moving us into our apartment. Our support system -- including many attorneys -- overwhelmed us with generosity in helping us evacuate, offering us shelter, feeding us, loaning us vehicles, and assisting with every issue that needed to be addressed.
The truth of the matter is that we are lucky, and I am not telling this story to earn sympathy. My family and I will be fine. We have the support and means to recover. While this situation is a major disruption in our lives, it pales in comparison to what Hurricane Irma has created for those less fortunate and less prepared to deal with these issues.
I literally have been unable to respond to all those that have reached out to ask how they can help my family. Please consider this letter a response to those requests. We need nothing at this time. Use your time to help those less fortunate.
Millions of Floridians need our help and, as lawyers, we can and should provide assistance in these trying times. This storm has affected a record number of people in our state. The federal government declared a state of emergency in 46 of 67 counties in our great state. As of today, there are more FEMA claims relating to Hurricane Irma than the number of claims with Hurricane Katrina. The number of claims is expected to continue to rise.
Many victims of Hurricane Irma are struggling to find answers to questions relating to insurance, FEMA, landlord/tenant, and similar issues relating to hurricane damage. In order to meet this need, The Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers’ Division, along with the ABA, has initiated and is administering The Florida Bar’s Disaster Relief Hotline. WE NEED VOLUNTEERS as the number of calls is currently more than the number of attorney volunteers.
It does not matter if you haven’t handled insurance claims, landlord-tenant claims, or if you are familiar with FEMA. Victims may be forced to make important decisions alone, without the advice of a lawyer, unless we get more volunteers. Most need only simple advice, and there is a comprehensive manual outlining the various options available.
You can sign up here to volunteer to answer the questions of Hurricane Irma victims on a pro bono basis:
The Florida Good Samaritan Act and the Federal Volunteer Protection Act provide protection for the lawyer volunteers (you) who offer assistance. The legal assistance provided will be to people who cannot otherwise afford representation.
Lawyers are uniquely suited to assist during these tragic times in Florida. Those very same skills that allowed me to help my family should be utilized to help restore our state. If you want to help me, help those in need.