Georgia, Florida and surrounding states recently experienced the most powerful recorded hurricane in the open Atlantic Ocean, a storm which retained its Category 5 status longer than any hurricane on record. Unfortunately, hurricane season does not end until November 30, 2017, and there are several storm systems emerging which could pose additional threats to the eastern United States.
Following are several tips for dealing with a hurricane damage claim:
- Contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Also, review your policy to determine the coverages available and to familiarize yourself with your insurance company’s procedures for filing a claim. Most homeowners and flood insurance policies contain a provision requiring notification within a specified time and in a particular manner following a loss. Failure to comply with the notification provision could result in denial of your claim. Furthermore, with the massive volume of claims expected after a hurricane, any delay in submitting your claim could result in a lengthier than usual claims process. Even if you are not sure that your damage is covered or believe the damage may be minimal, you should promptly notify your insurance company of the damage.
- Document the damage. Before attempting any temporary repairs or cleaning up any debris or damaged contents, it is critical to take photographs and video footage. Take multiple photographs from different angles to thoroughly photo document the damage. Inventory your home, making note of the personal property that was damaged in addition to any damage to the home itself. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has developed a free smartphone app called “MyHOMEScr.APP.book” which aids with organizing information and photographs room by room.
- Avoid speculating about the severity of the damage. An insurance adjuster will likely ask for a brief description of the damage by phone. Avoid making generalizations or describing the damage as “minor.” It is better to acknowledge that you do not know the extent of the damage and stick to the facts.
- Contact contractors as soon as possible. Do not wait to contact contractors and begin obtaining estimates for repairs. Although you will not be able to initiate repairs (other than temporary repairs on an emergency basis) until the claim has been resolved, you will want to obtain estimates as soon as possible before contractors get backed up with other customers. While the insurance company will generally send out its own adjuster to perform an inspection and prepare an estimate, having your own estimates will help to ensure that damage hasn’t been overlooked and that the insurance company’s adjuster has properly accounted for pricing in your location. Also, you never want to settle with your insurance company based solely on its estimate without having estimates from local contractors for comparison.
- Make temporary repairs. Generally, a homeowners insurance policy will require a homeowner to mitigate losses and prevent further damage. This means that it may be necessary to make temporary repairs such as repairing a broken window, covering a roof or removing a fallen tree which blocks access to your property until an insurance adjuster can inspect the property. While it is certainly prudent to notify the insurance adjuster of the emergency repairs that you intend to perform, at the very least make sure the damage has been well-documented and any repair receipts are kept to later submit to your insurance company. Do not make any extensive repairs or discard of any damaged property until you have received approval from the insurance adjuster.
- Make a record of all conversations. We recommend starting a claim diary wherein you write down the names, titles and contact information of everyone with whom you speak during the claims process, along with the dates, times and brief summaries of each conversation. The better organized you are, the simpler and easier the claims process will be. Additionally, if you find yourself having to hire an attorney to fight your insurance company, this claim diary can be invaluable.
- Be aware that there may be federal assistance for your loss. Even if you have insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may provide federal assistance for losses not covered by insurance. Visit www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362 to apply for assistance.
While Bass Law no longer handles property damage claims without an accompanying bodily injury, feel free to contact Bass Law for complimentary guidance in navigating the hurricane claims process or to obtain a referral to an attorney who specializes in these claims. You may contact us directly through this website or by calling 912-344-4294.