Hurricane Season Tips: Prepare Now to File a Property Damage Insurance Claim

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As we approach hurricane season, it makes sense to do a few posts discussing the dreaded “H” word – hurricanes (I probably don’t even curse enough to know any alternatives for the letter). I don’t just want to discuss the liability that insurance companies may have to you in the event of a hurricane loss, but also things that you can do to be prepared in the event of a hurricane loss.

The goal of this is not to provide the standard advice such as have a radio, have flashlights, have batteries, nonperishable food, etc.. We may do one of those in the future, but we are going to look at how you prepare for a hurricane loss in advance in terms of making a claim with your insurance company.

 

Get a Copy of the Insurance Policy

The first thing any homeowner should do is get a copy of their policy. This is not something that a lot of homeowners do. In reality, most of them are lucky to know who their insurance company is with. Please fix this as soon as possible. Request a copy of your policy and save it somewhere safe – like in your email. You will be amazed at how much this will help you in the event of a loss. Get your homeowners policy and your flood insurance policy.

Many people find this incredibly stressful.

Just going to work and trying to keep your family afloat tends to preoccupy your time. Many people don’t maintain copies of all these documents. It is amazing how easy it is to get your policy if you are willing to make some phone calls. These days, many companies will just email you a copy of the policy.

If you are getting ready for hurricane season, it makes sense to do an inventory of the documents that are out there. We have almost moved passed the days where you need a water proof and fireproof safe to save all your sensitive documents. Now it’s easier to take pictures of the documents and save them electronically. We recommend you put them in a couple of places such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and an email address.

If you have that policy, it’s going to speed up the process of figuring out if what you’re being told by the insurance company is true. Spoiler alert: Many adjusters will not realize that you have a copy of the policy. I never cease to be amazed at adjusters that will flat out misrepresent a policy condition to an insured not realized that the insured has the policy.

It will also make it much easier if you need to consult an attorney later, because an attorney, like me, can actually read the policy and figure out whether the insurance company’s statements with respect to your loss and any coverage are actually true.

If you don’t have your policy, we can still help you, but it may take a bit of extra time. For example, we may need to go to the insurance company and request a copy of the policy. This has a couple of drawbacks. The first drawback is that the insurance company will know that an attorney is involved from the outset. This means they may be more wary of saying something that may lead to penalties or attorneys’ fees. While this has some pros in the sense that they might pay a tiny bit more early on, there also may be mistakes the insurance company would make in terms of bad faith.

The bigger drawback, however, to not having the policy yourself and needing your attorney to go get it for you is the delay. Insurance companies will take some time to send that policy over. That time might be critical to you in terms of figuring out what’s covered and what’s not covered. This time is critical, especially if you’ve been displaced and the insurance company is not providing temporary housing for you.

It is amazing how over time, the loss of funds adds up. So, tip number one is get a copy of your policy.

 

Take A Contents Inventory

Tip number two relates to contents. Now, I think I’ve discussed this before in other blogs. However, it bears discussing contents again. Here “contents” simply means the things in your home. We’re not talking about the drywall, the doors, or the windows. We’re talking about big things and little things. This could be a television. It could be silverware. It could even be toothpicks and paperclips.

Now, it’s not always feasible to do, but I do suggest that if you have the ability, go ahead and take an inventory of the items in your house as often as possible – ideally once a year. Of course, you’re going to acquire things after you take this inventory, so your inventory is not always going to be entirely accurate. But, if you take an inventory prior to hurricane season and save it somewhere, that inventory will help you in making a contents claim when you figure out what things may be damaged. Of course, this advice isn’t really specific to hurricane claims. It would also apply to fires. In fact, it would be even more helpful in the case of a fire where some of your things may be burned to the point where you don’t even recognize them or know what it was that burned.
There are services you can hire to come do this inventory for you. But again that can be expensive. If that’s not the route you intend to take, I would suggest doing something very simple such as either writing down an inventory on a piece of paper or typing it into an Excel spreadsheet or Word document.

There are a few things you want to take down:

  1. You want to take some kind of description of your items.
  2. You would want to take down where you got it from or what the brand is.
  3. You would want to take down when you got it.
  4. You would want to take down what you believe you bought it for.
  5. I understand that this list isn’t going to be 100% accurate, but it’s good to have a baseline to work with in the event of a loss.

This is also going to help with questions as to the accuracy of your claim. If you had this document in existence before the loss, some insurance companies will have a hard time accusing you of falsifying your contents list. I have seen insurance companies blame a policyholder when they when they have a rolling contents claim. What I mean by “rolling contents claim” is when a policyholder gives a list of contents to the insurance company and then they continuously add to that list. Some insurance companies will even directly or indirectly accuse a policyholder of fraud in these situations. Sometimes they’ll ask for proof that those things even existed. A list that was created in advance of a loss that is unconnected to a loss may help you in establishing that those things did exist and you did have those things.

As far as maintaining the contents list, again, I’m amazed that some people create the list and then leave it in the home. Well, the problem with this is that the list could be damaged and essentially be useless to you. I would suggest saving this list somewhere electronically and saving it to some kind of cloud-based system. Not everyone has a server, not everyone has Dropbox, but at a minimum if you email it to yourself and save it somewhere where you can find it later, it will greatly assist you in figuring out where this list is should you ever need it.

 

Do a Preemptive Walk-through

Tip number 3 is to do a good walk-through of your home and figure out if there’s anything that is susceptible to hurricane damage, and do your best to strengthen it in advance of any loss. You have a duty to mitigate damages after a hurricane, but some insurance companies will also try to point to poor workmanship as a basis for denying claims as to certain things. Again, by doing some kind of walk-through and identifying things and getting things fixed in advance, you’re helping establish to the insurance company that you were indeed responsible with your property, as well as helping establish that there was not poor workmanship.

 

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