After the Storm: Top 5 Things To Do When Making a Claim – And Why They Matter
Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine – September 2022
Most people have their hurricane preparedness kit all ready to go now that we are well into hurricane season. We know what to do to in case of a hurricane or big storm. Few often know what steps to take in the unfortunate event that their property is damaged by a storm, however. Here are 5 key steps to take, from an insurance company’s perspective, if your property is damaged by a hurricane or summer storm.
Most people think their only duty under an insurance policy is to pay premiums. An insurance policy is a contract, like any other, however. Both parties have rights and responsibilities. Most insurance policies have a “Duties After Loss” provision. This provision tells insureds what they must do in the event of a loss. Taking these steps is the best way to ensure the insurance company is not prejudiced in its investigation and that your claim has the best chance of being covered. Failing to follow these steps could result in a denial of the claim and expensive out of pocket repairs to your property.
1) Give Prompt Notice of the Loss
Almost all insurance policies require the policyholder to give immediate notice following a loss. Delays in reporting property damage increase the chances that the claim will be denied, because the delay makes it harder for the insurance company to investigate the loss. Admittedly, you cannot always see the damage to the property. So, if you even believe your property has been damaged by a hurricane or summer stonn – whether or not you can see the damage – it is best to contact your insurer to report a claim. Many people delay because they fear a rate increase. Premiums do not necessarily increase for reporting a claim, however, and reporting a claim is free, simple, and encouraged. Most carriers even allow on-line claims reporting and reports by a policyholder’s agent.
2) Mitigate Further Damage
Most insurance policies also require the policyholder to mitigate property damage. This includes making permanent repairs, where necessary, to stop additional damage from occurring. If the loss is covered, most policies will reimburse you for making emergency repairs to mitigate further damage. So, keep all receipts for expenses incurred to mitigate your property damage. In some cases, failure to mitigate additional damage can lead to a claim denial, if the insurance company cannot tell what damage was caused by a storm. Common examples of mitigation include tarping a roof or hiring a water cleanup expert.
3) Retain Damaged Property
Who wants to keep bent gutters, cracked roof tiles, or torn shingles? Insurance companies need to inspect the damaged property as a part of its claim investigation, however. Retaining damaged property and allowing the carrier to examine it could be the difference between a covered or denied claim. Claims adjusters are trained to determine the cause of loss based on the type of damage. Retaining damaged property is the best way to show your property was damaged by a cause of loss covered by the policy.
4) Provide Requested Information
Almost all insurance companies will ask you for more information before reaching a coverage decision. This may include taking pictures before repairs or emergency mitigation is performed; completing a “Sworn Proof of Loss” about the loss and your property; allowing the insurance company to inspect your property; and, in some cases, sitting for an “Examination Under Oath” or recorded statement. As stressful as making an insurance claim can be, it is vital to answer the insurer’s questions and to give the information it needs. Failing to do so can lead to having your claim denied or having to litigate the claim for months, or years, before the damage to your property is addressed.
5) Cooperate with Insurance Company’s Investigation
This point ties everything together. Property damage and filing a claim is a pain. Answering questions and doing more won<, after the fact, are surely the last things on your mind, when all you want is for your home to be repaired. Failing to cooperate with the claim investigation process can be fatal and may lead to your claim being denied, however. No matter your frustration with the process, remember the insurance company’s requests during the investigation are meant to help resolve the claim as quickly as possible. It is in your best interest to help in this process as much as possible. The more you cooperate, the easier the process will be.
Bret L. Freeman and Julius Matusewicz are attorneys at Trenam Law. They are members of the firm’s first-party property insurance group, representing insurance companies in litigated claims. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org respectively.