Filing an Insurance Claim
Where to Start
The “disaster” (fill in the catastrophe of choice) caused a lot of damage, but thankfully you and your family are safe. Now starts the recovery and reconstruction stage. You’ll want to take immediate steps to not only mitigate your losses, but also to document your damages as completely as possible. Here are some tips, ideas, and suggestions to help get you started.
Contact Your Insurance Company and File a Claim:
This may seem obvious, but surprisingly many people wait far too long to start this process. Before you call your insurer, make sure to have all the necessary information on hand. If possible, write it all down ahead of time. Before hanging up with your insurer, make sure to get a claim number and the name and phone number of the person you spoke with. Also get the contact information for the adjuster who will be handling your claim. Provide the insurance company with your updated contact information, including a temporary address, email, and phone number where they can reach you.
Document the Damage: To the extent possible, you should take photographs and video of all the damage. Start at one end of you property and carefully document everything. Take as many photographs as possible, including shots from multiple angles, with wider shots showing the damage to the front, sides, and backyard. Do the very best that you can to describe the damage accurately and completely. Take copious notes. If possible, take a video recording of the entire property.
Mitigate the Damage: Many insurance policies require you to take steps to mitigate or prevent further
damage to your property. This means that you may be responsible if you failed to take reasonable steps to safeguard and protect your property from further loss/damage. What this actually means will vary widely depending on the circumstances. Just make sure to completely document all the damages before you start making even temporary repairs or cleaning up.
Mark Your House: Take a moment to spray paint your house number, street name, and the insurance company name on the front of your property. Remember street signs and house numbers may be damaged or missing altogether after a major event. Marking your house will make it easier for the insurance company representatives and adjusters to find your house.
Inventory Personal Property: Aside from taking photographs and video, it’s also a good idea to make a list of all personal property that was lost or damaged. If you have receipts that's even better. If not, do the best you can to verify the value.
Start a Journal/File: This is one of those things that just makes sense. Immediately start a notebook and file to document your claim and all communication with the insurance company. After each contact make an entry with the date, time, and name and contact information of the person you spoke with. Also try to summarize the content of the conversation as best you can. Don’t try to rely on your recollection of details or events — write it down and be as descriptive as possible.
Save all Receipts: Make sure to keep copies of all receipts for temporary housing and other living expenses. Insurance policy coverage and limits vary, but keep all receipts and submit them to the insurance company for reimbursement.
Independent Public Adjuster: After a major disaster, insurance companies may receive tens of thousands of claims in a very short period of time. Addressing all these claims will require an army of insurance adjusters. Many of these adjusters will have a tremendous workload, under tight time constrains to get the claims processed. Hiring an independent, public adjuster may help speed up the process and ensure you receive a fair amount for your claim.
File a Flood Insurance Claim: Many homeowners have several different kinds of coverage, including an additional policy for flood insurance. Don’t assume you don’t have coverage, and don’t assume which policy will pay for any specific damages. Promptly file your claims with all the insurers.
File an Automobile Insurance Claim: Once again, document all the damage with photographs and video, file your claim, mitigate your damages, and keep a log of all contact with the insurance company, including claim numbers and the name and contact information for all personnel you speak with.
File a Claim for Lost or Damaged Firearms: Guns are sometimes covered under standard homeowner’s policies, but there are usually serious limitations. As such, many gun owners obtain additional coverage under separate policies. Make sure to promptly file a claim under any additional policies, and record all the particulars of the claim.
Other Options: If you find that you’re either uninsured or underinsured for your losses, you may still have other options. You should immediately contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA at www.disasterassistance.gov) to inquire if you qualify for grants or low-interest loans for recovery and reconstruction, emergency housing, repairs, or other storm-related expenses.
Legal Advice: Whether it’s a denied claim, or you’re just not satisfied with the amount the insurance company is offering, you should consult an attorney specializing in insurance law before making any major decisions or signing any documents. Make sure to keep copies of all correspondence with your insurance company and any documentation you may have regarding your losses. A professional can evaluate your claim, review your policy, and ensure that you get a fair payment for your claim.