March 11, 2020

Disaster Legal Services - Nashville Tornadoes

This information comes from a joint press release between the American Bar Association and our partner organizations. The entire press release is available here.

Legal assistance organizations and bar associations have joined forces to support people affected by the tornadoes that moved through Middle Tennessee overnight between March 2 and 3, 2020. Legal Aid of Middle Tennessee & the Cumberlands is hosting legal clinics in impacted counties. Details are available at http://www.las.org/.

A toll-free legal assistance hotline is also now available to support tornado survivors. This service is a partnership between the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA), the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS), the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other local organizations.

Low-income individuals facing legal issues as a result of these tornados may call 1-844-HELP4TN (1-844-435-7486). Callers should identify that they are seeking tornado related legal assistance, should identify the county in which they are located, and be prepared to provide a phone number where they can be reached by an attorney. Survivors can also go online to ask questions to volunteer attorneys through the Tennessee Free Legal Answers service: www.TN.FreeLegalAnswers.org. Additionally, survivors can access information about their rights and resources, including links to upcoming legal clinics, FEMA information, and local resources at www.HELP4TN.org.

Examples of legal assistance available include:

  • Assistance securing government benefits as they are made available to disaster victims;
  • Assistance with life, medical, and property insurance claims;
  • Help with home repair contracts and contractors;
  • Replacement of wills and other important legal documents lost or destroyed in the disaster;
  • Consumer protection issues such as price-gouging and avoiding contractor scams in the rebuilding process;
  • Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems; and
  • Counseling on landlord-tenant problems.

Major Disaster Declaration

On March 5, 2020, FEMA announced a major disaster declaration in Davidson, Putnam, and Wilson Counties (additional counties may be added later) making federal funding available to individuals and businesses owners who sustained damage as a result of the tornadoes of March 2 and 3, 2020. 

People who sustained property damage as a result of the storm and accompanying tornadoes 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 may also call 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY) from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (CT) seven days a week.

Low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are available for eligible applicants. SBA helps businesses of all sizes (including landlords), private nonprofit organizations, homeowners, and renters fund repairs or rebuilding efforts and cover the cost of replacing lost or damaged personal property. Disaster loans cover losses not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries. 

For more information, individuals may contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955, emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov, or visiting SBA’s website at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call 800-877-8339.

Beware of Fraud

Both FEMA and the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office warn Tennessee residents of the risk of fraud and common scamsin the wake of the severe weather. Common post-disaster fraud practices include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, bogus pleas for disaster donations, and fake offers of state or federal aid. Tennessee residents are urged to ask questions, and to require identification when someone claims to represent a government agency.

Survivors should also keep in mind that state and federal workers never ask for or accept money and always carry identification badges with a photograph. There is no fee required to apply for or to receive disaster assistance from FEMA, the SBA, or the state. Additionally, no state or federal government disaster assistance agency will call to ask for your financial account information. Unless you place a call to the agency yourself, you should not provide personal information over the phone as it 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 made to the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at 615-741-4737 or local law enforcement agencies 

Volunteer Attorneys

Volunteers are needed to provide legal information, advice, and representation to those affected by the recent Middle Tennessee tornados. Attorneys interested in volunteering should complete the online form at https://tba.org/tornado_volunteers.

Pro bono opportunities include in-person legal clinics, answering questions posted to www.TN.FreeLegalAnswers.org, and taking individual cases. The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee & the Cumberlands recently launched its https://las.org/volunteer/pro-bono-matters/ website, which allows attorneys to review case descriptions and volunteer to handle cases online.

Barratry or Improper Solicitation

The Supreme Court of Tennessee reminds the public that in many cases it is unethical or a crime in Tennessee for a lawyer or someone representing a lawyer to contact a person for purposes of legal representation if the person has not first requested the call or personal visit. The contact is not illegal if the attorney is not seeking payment or has a preexisting professional-client or family relationship with the person being contacted.

If you witness something you believe to be impropersolicitation, or barratry, please get the name and phone number of the person making contact and report it to your local law enforcement authority or the Supreme Court of Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility at 800-486-5714 (toll free) or at https://www.tbpr.org/for-the-public/file-complaint

 

Partner Organizations