Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Natural Disasters

Recent media coverage of the destruction caused by super storm Sandy and the threat of a nor'easter hitting the same area has me pondering the legal issues surrounding natural disasters and emergency preparedness.

As we saw with previous hurricanes, such as Katrina, much litigation arises from the government's response and clean up efforts. Insurance and labor are just two of the areas of law affected by natural disasters. Too often, survivors are left to navigate through the muddy legal waters themselves because they do not know where to find needed information.

A good place to start researching is the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) website. One of the many helpful links is the Declaration Process Fact Sheet, which walks you through the steps required for states to receive federal assistance under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5206 (Stafford Act). The Governor must certify, among other things, that:
  • the severity and magnitude of the disaster exceed state and local capabilities
  • federal assistance is necessary to supplement the efforts and available resources of the state and local governments, disaster relief organizations, and compensation by insurance for disaster related losses
Which brings me to insurance related issues. For the most part, damage caused by natural disasters is covered by traditional homeowner policies, excluding flood damage. FEMA provides the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Summary of Coverage on its site. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' (NAIC) October 2012 CIPR Newsletter, the recently enacted Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 extends the NFIP for five more years and moves it toward risk-based pricing by phasing out subsidies for vacation and second homes, businesses, severe repetitive loss properties or substantially improved/damaged properties. As The Natural Disaster Law Lawyer Mops Up for Victims points out, having coverage does not guarantee a stress-free experience.  

Let's not forget about all the labor issues that can float to the surface after a disaster. Employers still must comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Check out Extreme Weather, Natural Disasters and Personnel Issues for a few general pointers for businesses closed due to a natural disaster. If your business is lucky enough to remain open during clean up efforts, ensure you are following Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines.

Both employers and employees should be aware of guidelines for:
  • Federal and Medical Leave Act
  • The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act 
  • The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act
 We all know that the best time to plan for a disaster is before it happens. Likewise, the time to look at these resources is before we are faced with another disaster. So, when you rush out to stock up on bread, water, and gas, remember to check out these resources too!

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