Free legal assistance available for survivors of Hurricane Michael in Florida
A walk past the piles of rubble in Lanark, Florida.
A walk past piles of rubble in Lanark, Fla., Monday, Oct. 15, 2018.
Alicia Devine, Democrat of Tallahassee
A legal aid hotline is now available for Hurricane Michael survivors in Florida who cannot afford an attorney: 1-866-550-2929. The hotline operates through a partnership including the Young Lawyers Division of the Florida Bar, the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association (ABA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Voicemail recordings in English and Spanish give instructions for callers to leave a message requesting legal assistance related to the storm and to provide their name, phone number, country of residence and a description of their legal issues.
Assistance through this hotline is available to qualified Floridians affected by Hurricane Michael in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty, Taylor, Wakulla, and Washington counties. Those who qualify will be matched with Florida attorneys who have volunteered to provide free legal assistance, such as:
- Securing from FEMA and other benefits.
- Make life, medical and property insurance claims.
- Do business with home improvement contractors.
- Replace wills and other important legal documents destroyed by the hurricane.
- Assist with consumer protection issues, remedies and procedures.
- Advice on mortgage foreclosure issues or landlord/tenant issues.
Callers can leave a message on the hotline at any time. Calls will be returned within two business days between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. There are certain limitations: for example, assistance is not available for cases where costs are paid as part of a settlement or court order. These cases will be referred to a lawyer referral service. Funding for this hotline comes from FEMA under the authority of Section 415 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Public Law 100-707).
Additional Resources for Floridians
Additional Florida Bar resources and information are listed at www.floridabar.org/hurricaneinfo and include:
Legal Assistance Consumer Guide: The Florida Bar’s “Mass Disaster” Consumer Guide provides information for consumers on who to contact for legal assistance and how to protect their legal rights in the event of a mass disaster: link here.
Free legal answers in Florida: An online counseling clinic to connect low-income Floridians with licensed attorneys who can answer basic legal questions at www.florida.freelegalanswers.org. A temporary increase in the qualifying cap will allow more Floridians affected by Hurricane Michael to ask questions and receive answers from volunteer attorneys through this Florida Bar/ABA program.
Juridical help : Resources and volunteer opportunities for legal aid and pro bono attorneys and information to help Floridians seeking civil legal aid are listed at https://thefloridabarfoundation.org/storm-aid. The Florida Bar Foundation established the Florida Hurricane Legal Aid Fund for civil legal assistance to Floridians affected by Hurricane Michael and all subsequent hurricanes that made landfall in Florida.
Unethical conduct: Those who believe they have been treated unfairly by an attorney should contact the Florida Bar Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) at 1-866-352-0707. Only members of the Florida Bar who are eligible to practice may give legal advice and provide legal services.
Price Scam: Attorney General Pam Bondi has activated Florida’s price gouging hotline for all Florida consumers at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226). Issues with insurance companies can be directed to the Attorney General’s Office by calling 1-866-966-7226 or by calling the Florida Department of Financial Services at 1-800-342-2762.
FEMA: People who have suffered property damage from severe storms and flooding are urged to register with FEMA as they may be eligible for federal and state disaster assistance. People can register online at DisasterAssistance.gov or via smartphone or web-enabled device at m.fema.gov. Applicants can also call 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY) from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Flood survivors are also encouraged to call the FEMA hotline to report their damage. For more information on recovery in Florida: https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4399
Low Interest Disaster Loans: US Small Business Administration (SBA) loans are available for eligible applicants. The SBA helps businesses of all sizes (including landlords), private nonprofit organizations, landlords, and renters fund repairs or reconstruction efforts and cover the cost of replacing lost or damaged personal property. . Disaster loans cover losses that are not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries.
For more information, contact the SBA Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955, emailing [email protected], or visiting the website from the SBA at Disasterloan.sba.gov. Deaf and hard of hearing people can call 800-877-8339.
Beware of fraud: FEMA and the Florida Attorney General’s Office are warning Florida residents of the risk of fraud and common scams as a result of severe weather. Common post-disaster fraud practices include bogus housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, bogus disaster appeals, and fake offers of state or federal assistance. Floridians are urged to ask questions and demand identification when someone claims to represent a government agency.
Survivors should also keep in mind that state and federal government workers never ask for or accept money and always wear photo ID badges. No fee is required to apply for or receive disaster assistance from FEMA, the US Small Business Administration (SBA), or the state. Also, no federal or state disaster relief agency will call you to ask for your financial account information. Unless you call the agency yourself, you should not provide personal information over the phone, as this can lead to identity theft. Those who suspect fraud can call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 (toll-free). Complaints may also be filed with the Florida Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Hotline at 866-966-7226.