Hurricane season is upon us once more. If you are a home or business owner whose property was affected by a hurricane, storm, or other natural disaster, here are some tips for filing an insurance claim and what to do if you need help.
1. Review your insurance policy.
The scope of your coverage will determine how much of your property damage may be covered when you file a claim. Many standard policies distinguish between flood damage and hurricane damage; flood coverage is normally purchased separately.
Hurricane damage may be caused by wind, water, or other sources. Generally, damage caused by wind, wind-driven rain, and water that comes into your home through the roof, windows, doors, or holes in the walls is covered by homeowners’ insurance. But, damage from flooding or water that rises from the bottom up is not covered.
Note that if your automobile insurance includes comprehensive coverage, then flooding would be covered under your auto policy. Regardless of the type of coverage you have, it is still worthwhile to contact your insurer to determine whether some of your expenses will be covered.
You will need to check your insurance documents to determine your coverage.
2. Review your deductible and file your claim promptly.
Most insurance policies have a deductible, which is the amount of money you will need to pay before your insurer will start to cover your claim. But unlike most homeowners’ insurance claims, do not expect to pay your fixed deductible for hurricane repairs. Instead, your deductible is in the form of a percentage of your property’s insured value.
File your insurance claim as quickly and as accurately as possible. Make sure to get your claim number, since it is the easiest way for insurance companies to locate and keep track of your file. Ask when you can expect to be contacted by an adjuster.
3. Document your losses.
If possible, document your losses with pictures and video, and include a list of damaged personal items. It helps to have some “before” photos to compare the damage as well.
Include the date of purchase and approximate value of any damaged items. Locate receipts for any of these items, if possible.
4. Don’t clean too much.
Although it may be tempting, you should not make any permanent repairs. Do not throw out damaged property. Keep records of anything you spend to make immediate, temporary repairs to secure your home, as well as receipts for hotels and meals if you cannot return home right away.
Your insurer should cover the cost of emergency services, if needed (for example, if your roof has a hole in it or your windows are broken).
5. You do not have to accept the insurer’s first offer.
Nearly everything in this phase of the claim process is negotiable, whether it be how the language of the policy is interpreted, what damage is covered, what contractors to use, or what the value of your loss is.
If you do not agree with the insurer’s first offer, you can request that the adjuster revise the report and correct the cost of the damage. You may also choose to talk to an insurance company’s approved contractor to estimate your property damage, but you are not under any obligation to use them. You can request a second opinion, and you may be able to request mediation of your claim, depending on the language in your specific policy.
If necessary, you may need to retain counsel experienced in this area of law.
6. Document everything.
Insurance companies are not known for moving quickly. Stay on top of your claim. Follow up and document all your efforts in doing so, reserving any and all rights to make a bad-faith claim should the circumstances arise.
Ana P. Moretto is a litigation associate at Ward Damon and concentrates her practice in the areas of commercial and complex litigation. If you need help with filing an insurance claim or other types of litigation, please contact Ana at AMoretto@warddamon.com or call 561-842-3000.