With a lot of the East Coast facing flood and wind damages from Hurricane Irene, homeowners are taking the first steps to file an insurance claim. Of course if your house is flooded or your roof is damaged, making calls and filling out paperwork may be the least of your worries. We checked in with Richard Standring, manager of Risk Services for Firemans Fund Insurance to find answers to some frequently asked questions about insurance claims.
Whats the first thing you should do?
Contact your insurance company, agent or broker and put them on notice that you have damage. You can do that with a simple phone call, or file a claim online if the phone lines are down. After that, secure your house or building as best you can until the claims adjuster can stop by or repairs begin. This includes things like putting a tarp over a damaged roof or buying a dehumidifier for flooded basements. In case of flood, its important to dry your home out as quickly as possible.
What if I need to buy things like tarps or supplies for quick repairs? Is that something my insurance would cover?
Normally, yes. Any items you buy in order to protect your property or stave off mold are considered essentials and will be covered. Just make sure you save all receipts for anything you purchase, and keep documents on any temporary repairs you have made. If you have a local roofer or cleaning company fix your basement, keep all receipts and notes on what was repaired. You can be reimbursed at a later date.
Should I to wait for the claims adjuster to view my damaged items?
You shouldnt dispose of any damaged items before the claims adjuster can see them. The claims adjuster will want to see everything from a damaged refrigerator to a waterlogged mattress. Even though it may not be preferable, keep these items on hand. If you have to keep them in a dumpster in the front yard, your neighbors will understand.
After the claims adjuster comes to view my damage, do I have wait for a repair authorization or can I just call a repairman immediately and have them start fixing things?
The claims adjuster normally gives the go ahead to begin repairs immediately; we just ask for a written quote from a local contractor or builder. The contractor would bill the policy holder directly, and the policy holder would be reimbursed by us. If damage is extensive enough, the policy holder is normally given an advance to give to contractors to engage them to begin repairs.
Should I take photographs of the damages?
Yes. Walk around your house and photograph or video any damage. Even before you get the tree off the roof, just snap a couple of pictures. It helps the claims adjuster go into a little more detail about exactly what happened to cause the damage.
When I should expect the claims adjuster to be able to come by? If theres widespread damage, will it be a while?
Claims adjusters typically focus on larger losses first. We had a number of fires as a result of the hurricane, where water in the electrical panel caused a fire that resulted in a total loss. Our adjusters will be going in order from most devastating to the least, with the smallest losses being things like $400 in frozen food that was lost when a deep freezer lost power. If its something minor like a fence being blown over or patio steps get blown away, we can typically do those over the phone.
What else should I do before the adjuster gets there?
Complete a proof of loss form before meeting with an adjuster and bring home inventory documents to the meeting. The proof of loss forms spell out each sides rights and responsibilities; if you can hand your adjuster a signed proof of loss and inventory of all thats been lost it will certainly expedite the process. The form will allow homeowners to detail cause of loss, scope of loss, what was damaged, what was lost and the financial impact. If a homeowner can hand it to their adjuster on arrival, theyre just that one step further through the process.
How will my claims adjuster know for sure how much I spent on an item? Should I have kept receipts for big-ticket items?
Everyone is different on when they elect to keep receipts. They arent required; if a homeowner has the item in their possession, that certainly constitutes proof of ownership. Having a receipt would speed things along as far as us seeing when the item was purchased, where it was purchased and how much was paid, but its certainly not required.
What about next time. If Im watching TV and I see that a hurricane is coming, can I call and quickly take out an insurance policy before it hits?
No. In advance of a hurricane watch or warning, underwriting controls go into effect. So in advance of certain storms, we close off the binding authority on auto insurance, homeowners insurance, etc. for at least 24 hours. Insurance is for the long term, not just if you see a hurricane coming.