Legal Issues Arising After Natural Disasters

Legal Issues Arising After Natural Disasters

Over the last couple of months, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have dominated the news. Now wildfires are sweeping through Northern California, and have displaced to date more than 20,000 citizens. Damages from these events are estimated to total upwards of $65 billion. Secondary to the tragic loss of life that has occurred as a result of these disasters, much of the news coverage has been focused on the loss of many homes and businesses and what it will take to rebuild the devastated areas.  The seemingly smaller potential legal issues that arise as a result of natural disasters often get overlooked, unless they happen to you.  Here, we will review some legal issues that could trouble many of those who are in disaster areas.

Foreclosures and Evictions

When you are forced to evacuate quickly, sometimes all you have are the few items you can grab.  If you aren’t at home when flood waters rise or fire spreads, you may not be able to salvage anything. It’s not uncommon for those whose homes are destroyed in a disaster to miss mortgage payments.  What happens if you miss a payment?

Whether a mortgage servicer utilizes Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD (U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development) or the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), foreclosure proceedings are usually delayed for at least ninety (90) days after a natural disaster. However, this 90-day moratorium is implemented provided the homeowner was current on their payments at the time of the disaster. Payment plans can usually be negotiated to assist homeowners who were current prior to the disaster.  Be sure to contact your loan servicer to see if you can make any arrangements to give yourself extra time before foreclosure.

Loss of Key Documentation

Rebuilding your life in the event of a natural disaster can be even more impactful if important documentation wasn’t safely stored off-site in a safe deposit box or in a fireproof safe. Medical documents, property records and financial and legal documents are examples of documentation that, if left unprotected, could take considerable time to replace and might leave you open to legal issues.


The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can address employees affected by a natural disaster if it causes a serious health condition. Also, employees affected by a natural disaster are covered under FMLA if they care for a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition. While many employees who lose their job due to a natural disaster will be eligible for unemployment payments, those not covered can apply for federally-funded DUA (Disaster Unemployment Assistance) payments.

If you, a friend or family member are the victim(s) of a natural disaster, there are potential legal issues that could arise outside the scope of homeowner’s insurance. The loss of employment, key documentation, and the threat of foreclosure or eviction are some of the life changing events that might require consultation with an attorney experienced in employment law, real estate and family law.

If you have questions about legal issues that have surfaced due to a natural disaster, contact the skilled and highly experienced attorneys at Bennett Weston LaJone & Turner, P.C.

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