Addressing Unexpected Legal Issues

in the Wake of Natural Disasters: How to be Prepared


We are always told to expect the unexpected. But what do we do when our worst expectations become reality? Are your clients and their employees prepared when disaster strikes?

Some people are still working through the disaster that is COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic devastated the United States and left many individuals with resounding physical, emotional and financial effects. And now a pandemic-weary population may be facing the added impact of one of the myriad natural disasters plaguing the country.

Already this year, there has been arctic cold in the Southwest, several tornadoes in the Midwest, flash flooding in the deep South, and historically extreme heat waves from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California. With high temperatures 30 to 35 degrees hotter than average, conditions are perfect for sparking wildfires. In fact, a natural disaster dubbed ‘Lava Fire’ burned over 4,000 acres of land in California in June 2021, causing about 10,000 individuals to be evacuated from their homes.
And of course, who can forget the Midwestern derecho, a storm that Iowans had the displeasure of learning about last August?

In 2020, there were a record 22 climate or weather-related events that exceeded $1 billion in losses, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
For context, the five-year average is approximately 17.

In the aftermath of one of these types of natural disasters, your clients and their employees may encounter a number of legal and financial issues. Here are some ways employers can support their employees’ efforts to recover and rebuild – or better yet, be more prepared going forward.

Recovering from a disaster
There are a few key considerations affected employees should keep in mind
when dealing with the aftereffects of a natural disaster.

Where to go for help
Depending on the scale of the event, it may be best to lean on local and federal
organizations that specialize in disaster relief. For example, when tornadoes
hit communities in suburban Chicago, impacted residents were directed to
Resource Centers, a multi-agency source of supplies, food, information and relief services.
In addition to groups like the Red Cross, churches and civic organizations,
employees can also reach out to:

         Federal Emergency ManagementAgency (FEMA): a government organization comprised of both regional and national offices that boasts close to a 50,000-strong workforce during
a natural disaster. Their mission is “helping people before, during and after disasters, and our guiding principles help us achieve it.” FEMA provides
information on current disasters as well as tips on how to prepare for the future.  another resource that can help individuals find assistance and shelter during a disaster. They can also create an account to help securely view messages from FEMA, upload important documents in order to
receive assistance, and more.
         The Disaster Distress Helpline: a 24/7 resource for individuals experiencing emotional distress ( provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the wake of a natural or human-caused disaster like floods,
drought or incidents of mass violence. The helpline also answers calls and texts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
         Insurance providers — health, life, home, auto — will also be important sources of information and relief in a recovery effort. Again, depending on the magnitude of the event, some insurers, like Allstate and State Farm, will bring Mobile Claims Centers onsite to facilitate communications and the claims process.
Is it safe to return home?
This may be one of the biggest questions on the minds of individuals who were displaced by a catastrophic event. The most important thing for them to do is to wait for the all-clear by authorities, whether they’re the local fire department or the state emergency management agency. Even though the disaster event itself may have passed, it’s not safe to enter a damaged building unless deemed ok by a building inspector and at times, an electrical inspector. Together, they can identify potential dangers like live wires and mold from water damage.
         Additionally, it’s possible that a storm could have washed hazardous debris and materials into harm’s way. The National Response Center is a great resource to rely on that can forward reported pollution incidents to a local response agency.

Surprising legal implications
         Your clients may ask you how a natural disaster could possibly turn into a legal matter for their employees. After all, who thinks to call their attorney after a hurricane? Unfortunately, legal issues have a way of cropping up even
when we least expect it.
         Identity theft, for example, can be an unexpected consequence of a natural disaster, especially if an individual’s home was severely damaged, their belongings were displaced, or they were required to evacuate. Tracking down possible identity thieves and restoring damages can be difficult and time-consuming without counsel or resources.
         It’s also not uncommon for consumer scams to surge after a natural disaster, in the form of price gouging, refinancing schemes, or shoddy home repair work and subsequent contractor disputes.
         Natural disasters can also end in personal disaster, causing individuals to lose loved ones, as they’re trying to put their own life together. Coping with unexpected loss and being tasked with death arrangements is a heavy legal burden, in addition to the obvious emotional  burden.
         If your clients’ employees are experiencing problems, be sure to remind them of any voluntary benefits offered that might help them, such as legal  insurance, which can connect affected individuals with attorneys who can provide advice and representation should they need it.

How legal insurance can help
         Like most types of insurance, legal insurance is designed to help members prepare for and recover from the unexpected. For employers that offer legal insurance benefits to employees, the members impacted by a natural disaster can:

  •  Take advantage of identity theft resources and have a network attorney manage their identity restoration case.
  • Rely on a network attorney to help with contractor issues or insurance disputes when rebuilding their property.
  • Set up an irrevocable trust to protect property and reduce taxes when the owner of the property dies.
  • Talk to an attorney about setting up or contributing to a relief fund.
  • Enjoy 100% paid-in-full attorney fees for most covered matters.
  • Legal insurance enables your clients to use it for real-time assistance and as a preparation tool, meaning your clients’ employees can use this voluntary benefit to get their affairs in order before the next disaster strikes.

Members can get ahead of a disaster by:

  • Reviewing one’s homeowner policy with a network attorney.
  • Crafting an updated will via DIY Docs or with an attorney’s help.
  • Talking with an attorney about Living Will and Power of Attorney
  • Calling an attorney for general legal advice or legal disaster
    preparation tips.

By providing legal insurance to your clients, you are helping give their employees access to justice in the moments they need it most, whether that be in the wake of a global pandemic or after a devastating natural disaster.

DENNIS HEALY is a member of the ARAG executive team. Healy is a passionate advocate for legal insurance because he has seen firsthand how it helps people receive the protection and legal help they need. He has nearly 30 years of insurance industry experience, with a primary focus on the sale of group voluntary benefit products to employer groups of all sizes through the broker and consultant community.