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From New York To New Orleans: Local Lawyers Help Louisiana Residents With Insurance Claims

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Four months after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, many victims of the storm are finding out that while it's easy to pay for an insurance policy, it can be far tougher to collect. But as NY1’s Solana Pyne explains in the final part of her special series "From New York To New Orleans," New York City lawyers are stepping in to help.

Compared to many along the gulf coast, Valeriy Yachmenev was lucky - his house was flooded with only two feet of water, and he had two types of insurance to cover some of the damages.

“I immediately filed both claims with the homeowner insurance and with the flood insurance,” he says.

But getting the money to rebuild has proven more complicated than simply stating what needs to be done.

“Getting paid for a loss that you have is very complicated. It takes a lot of time and work,” says New York City lawyer Jeannine Chanes. “It's a specialized area, and if you're not familiar with it, you can possibly forfeit coverage that you're entitled to.”

Chanes, a lawyer with the relatively unusual legal specialty of insurance, has been working pro bono from her office in Lower Manhattan to help Yachmenev negotiate his insurance claims.

“It's a very different situation when she calls the insurance company or I call the insurance company,” says Yachmenev. “In case of Miss Jeannine they answer very quickly.”

Yachmenev has already paid $5,000 to clear mud, furniture and other debris from the house. And though he has yet to receive insurance money for it, he has already started getting estimates to fix the roof.

“Two estimates I got. They’re all in range of $8,500,” says Yachmenev. “But the estimate from my insurance company is $5,000.”

Chanes says the difference comes from whether or not the roof needs to be repaired or replaced, and that's where her legal expertise is coming in handy.

“Louisiana law is very favorable to policy holders as far as getting a whole new roof rather than a patched roof or a roof where you can see what the damage, where the patches are,” she says. “So that's an argument I can make as a lawyer because I know what the law is.”

Chanes says it's very similar to work she and others did with small businesses and residents in Lower Manhattan after 9/11.

“It's been stunning to all of us down here in Lower Manhattan just how similar they are. It's like 9/11 all over again, except sort of to the 10th power,” she says. “And that's one reason, I think, why so many people down here specifically want to help.”

And the help offered by Chanes and other New York lawyers has taken pressure off lawyers in Louisiana, many of whom lost their homes and are working out of makeshift offices.

“Our particular legal aid program used to have about 30 lawyers, but literally 75 percent of our lawyers in the New Orleans area, you know, lost their homes,” says lawyer Mark Moreau.

A tragedy that is far from over.

- Solana Pyne
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