Oklahoma Lawyers: No Strangers to Disaster
by Jarrod Beckstrom
- OBA lawyers provide free legal assistance to disaster victims, a critical service in the weeks and months following a disaster
- OBA lawyers will provide a free review of all building and repair contracts for disaster victims
- Disaster victims can complete an online form or call toll free 866-341-8416 to request legal assistance
Leveled houses. Twisted metal and rubble. Images of panicked residents and heroic first responders. The visuals following a large-scale disaster stick with you the most, but victims of such tragedies face many challenges that aren’t as captivating. Surviving the disaster is the first step in a long journey to rebuilding a life, and Oklahoma Bar Association members are helping victims of the recent tornadoes,flooding and straight winds do just that.
Since the Moore tornado on May 20, 2013, over 250 OBA members have volunteered to offer free legal advice to storm victims. As of June 13, 280 families or individuals have taken advantage of the free service provided by the OBA and its partner, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma Inc.
LEGAL NEEDS EMERGE AFTER THE STORMS ARE LONG GONE
After a disaster, emotional and physical needs – like providing food and shelter to victims – are the most pressing. After those needs are met, the enormous challenge of getting life back in order looms large.
Seemingly simple tasks like filing an insurance claim or replacing identification documents like birth certificates and social security cards are made enormously complex when, in the case of disaster victims, all of their worldly possessions are abruptly swept away.
It can all be very overwhelming and difficult to navigate the challenges, and those challenges are exacerbated by post-tragedy scams and cons.
HISTORY OF HELPING
Providing legal assistance to victims of disasters is nothing new to the OBA. In the last 18years, the OBA has enacted its disaster response plan seven times. Oklahoma lawyers have helped victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, and six incidents of violent tornadoes, wildfires, hail and wind storms get their lives back on track. Also, the OBA’s disaster plan has been used as a model for other bar associations to help victims in the wake of disasters.
THE OKLAHOMA STANDARD TRADITION CONTINUES
The “Oklahoma Standard” is a term that was coined after the1995 terrorist attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The overwhelming kindness, courage and generosity of Oklahomans in times of tragedy captured the attention of the watching world. That tradition continues today as the OBA works with its partners, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division to provide a critical service to Oklahomans who had their worlds turned upside down.
BEWARE OF STORM SHARKS
Getting life back on track by re-establishing important documents is one thing, but victims of disasters sometimes fall victim once more – this time to fraud and deception. It’s a tragic reality that immoral opportunists prey on emotionally vulnerable and unsuspecting disaster victims. Price-gouging, home repair fraud and “financial institutions” requiring advance fees on loans are dangers lurking in the waters of disaster recovery. As such, OBA attorneys are providing free review of all building and repair contracts.
Another considerable danger is identity theft. Well over 1,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged by the Moore tornado. Just think, every one of those homes had financial records, identification paperwork, credit cards and checks. All of that personal and sensitive information was literally blown all over the state and in today’s world, people can use that information to steal identities of storm victims. Lawyers can give advice on how to prevent that from happening.
If you or someone you know has been affected by the recent severe weather, you can complete an online form or call the toll free number 866-341-8416 to get paired with an attorney with experience in the required practice area.
If you’re an OBA attorney who would like to volunteer, please complete this form.
Mr. Beckstrom is an OBA Communications Specialist.
Posted to www.okbar.org on June 13, 2013