Hurricane Insurance Claims 101
When a hurricane is on a beeline toward Eastern North Carolina, most folks know that at least some property damage is to be expected.
Oftentimes, catastrophic flooding and destructive winds hammer everywhere from the Triangle to the Coast.
In getting our clients ready for such situations, we have prepared the below tips for preparing for and making inevitable hurricane related insurance claims:
Photograph the condition of your property before the storm.
Oftentimes, insurance companies will raise questions as to whether damage was storm related or pre-existing. If you have damage from a hurricane, you will want to be able to show your insurance company proof of your property’s condition immediately before the storm. This includes both real and personal property. Take your I-Phone and photograph the condition of the interior and exterior of your home or business. This includes furniture, fences, sheds, garages, attics, basements, trees and landscaping.
Have copies of your insurance policies and/or declaration pages.
It is important to know what insurance coverages you have before a storm hits. Of equal importance, you need to review these documents to know how to quickly make an insurance claim if and when you sustain damage. This should include but not be limited to any and all policies of car insurance, homeowners insurance, flood insurance, and business insurance that you have.
If you have storm damage, make an insurance claim as soon as possible.
In catastrophes, insurance companies generally handle claims on a first come, first serve basis. If you call your insurance company immediately after the storm, you may experience long wait times, but be patient. It will pay-off in the speed at which your claim is adjusted. Likewise, don’t let someone put you or claim on the backburner. Be persistent in your communications. (As an aside, many companies now have apps or websites where you can make your insurance claims online, which may save you time on the phone.)
Write down your claim number and keep it handy.
When you make an insurance claim, it is easy to overlook writing down your claim number. However, writing this number down and keeping it handy can save you a lot of time down the road. If you keep this number, insurance company representatives will be able to immediately find your claim each and every time you call.
Take notes documenting every contact with your insurer, noting the person with whom you spoke, his or her contact information, the date that you spoke, and what you spoke about. After catastrophes, insurance companies are overwhelmed, and you should take the initiative in making sure your calls and correspondence make it to the right person and also that adjusters do what they promise. Additionally, if things go haywire with your insurance claim, it is important for your lawyer to get these notes down the road.
If you sustain storm damage, you have a duty to mitigate further damage to your home or business. This means you must make any and all reasonable temporary repairs to prevent further damage to your property. However, keep receipts for any expenses related to immediate repairs you had to make, as your insurer will generally be required to reimburse you for these expenses.
Likewise, keep receipts for any living expenses you incur (i.e. lodging & meals) if you could not return to your home in the wake of the storm. With wind claims, you should generally get reimbursed for such additional living expenses. If your claim is limited to flood insurance, additional living expenses might not be covered.
If you are a business owner, quickly develop a short-term plan for your business (i.e., open in temporary location, shut down etc.), and keep receipts/records for all purchases and services from the date of your loss until your claim is satisfactorily resolved.
Photograph the condition of your property after the storm.
If you have storm damage, it is important that you photograph it, and that you photograph it before any temporary or permanent repairs are made to your home or business. Do not rely on the insurance company to document the damage to your property. Take the initiative and do it yourself. This instruction is not limited to real property and structures. If you have personal property that was damages in the storm, photograph that damage too.
Know who you are dealing with.
When the insurance company sends out an adjuster, ask if he/she is an employee of the insurance company or an independent adjuster (I.A.). In catastrophes, insurance companies will oftentimes contract claims out to third-party companies. If you encounter an I.A., ask if they are authorized to make claim decisions and payments on behalf of your insurance company and ask for the name of the in-house company adjuster to whom the I.A. will be sending your information. If you have problems or issues with the I.A., having the contact information for the in-house company adjuster can be of great assistance.
Flood versus Wind Damage
If you think you only have flood damage to your home or business, and you don’t have flood insurance, call your insurers anyway. Some homeowners and business policies that exclude damage related to flooding may cover damage from water and wind.
Your vehicles should be covered.
Damage to your vehicles from downed trees and flooding should be covered by the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance. If your vehicle is damaged, promptly make a claim with your car insurance company and photograph its condition.
*Ask for help if you need it!
Most insurance claims are resolved on friendly and fair terms, but sometimes they are not. If you run into an adjuster who is making your life more difficult than it should be, arguing about what is or is not covered, or arguing with you or a contractor about the extent of damage to your home or business, call Partner Robert Jessup or another lawyer immediately.