Damage From Hurricane Isaac? Here's How The Insurance Claim Process Works

Sep 04, 2012, 14:52 ET from Insurance Information Institute

I.I.I. Has Tips to Prepare for an Insurance Adjuster's Visit

NEW YORK, Sept. 4, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Insurance claims adjusters are arriving in areas damaged by Hurricane Isaac, ready to assist people and get them back quickly on the path to recovery. If you have storm damage, the first step is to contact your insurance company or agent and report it, says the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

You'll want to find out whether the damage is covered under the terms of your insurance policy and, if so, how long it will take to process your claim. Then you'll want to prepare for the claims adjuster's visit.

An adjuster is an insurance professional trained and licensed by the state to assess damage. The adjuster can be a staff adjuster who works exclusively for your insurance company or an independent adjuster working on a temporary basis for your insurance company and possibly others as well. Typically, when there is a high volume of claims from a natural disaster, insurance companies activate agreements with established independent adjusting companies in order to promptly serve their policyholders.

After you report your claim, the insurance company will either send you a Proof of Loss form or schedule an appointment to have the damage inspected. In either case, in general, the more information you have about your damage the faster your claim will be settled.

Keep in mind that insurance companies do not necessarily handle claims in the order in which they are received, so if you phoned in your claim while the winds were still blowing, that does not put you at the head of the line. Claims visits are arranged by the severity of the damage, so it is important to provide your insurer with an accurate description of your property damage. Policyholders who have been most severely impacted or have immediate financial or safety concerns will be a priority for the insurance company as well as those with a family member with special needs.

To help organize your disaster recovery, prepare an inventory of all damaged or destroyed items to give to the adjuster. Additionally, keep all your receipts, including what you spend to make temporary repairs to protect your property from further damage and any additional expenses incurred while living away from your home.

Those receipts are part of the total claims settlement, and you can submit them for reimbursement. Keep copies of everything, including the paperwork your insurance company gives you. Record the names and phone numbers of everyone you speak with – a step that is important if your insurer sends more than one adjuster to view your property.

Many claims adjusters have special disaster recovery expertise, and it is common for insurance companies to deploy these individual experts for complex claims, such as those involving considerable structural damage due to wind, damage due to flooding and the destruction of a majority of personal property within the home. If your car was damaged by the storm, an adjuster with an expertise in auto insurance may also be sent to your home.

In these cases, more than one adjuster may schedule a visit to inspect your property. The benefit of this approach is to give policyholders the most accurate and complete damage assessment. There is no charge to policyholders for claims experts who assess damage on behalf of your insurer. These costs are covered in the annual premium you pay.

Some people choose to hire public adjusters to handle their claim. Public adjusters work for the claimant and are paid a percentage of the total value of the claim amount. This can reduce the amount of money you receive for repairs, however. Many people choose to engage the services of a public adjuster when they have limited time to manage their own claim.

Many people with flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) are likely to see at least two adjusters: one adjuster representing their homeowners insurance company, who will process wind-related damage, and another representing the NFIP, who will handle damage from flooding.

Keep in mind that if you disagree with the settlement amount of your claim, your policy allows for an independent appraisal of the loss. In this case, both you and your insurance company hire independent appraisers who choose a mediator. You and your insurance company each pay for your appraiser and share the other costs. The decision of any two of these three people is binding. However, disputes rarely get to this stage.

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you prepare for the claims process:

  1. Make sure your insurance company knows how to reach you. Provide your cellphone number and back-up contacts, if they are available. If at all possible, you should try to meet the claims adjuster at your property, providing it is safe to do so.
  2. Complete a Proof of Loss form in advance and bring home inventory documents. The more information you have about your damaged possessions the faster your claim will be settled. If you completed a home inventory in advance of the storm, this will be a valuable tool as you will need to make a list of all damaged items to give your claims adjuster. This will include make and model numbers of your possessions, purchase dates and the price you paid. Most insurers have home inventory forms you can use to complete this step. You will also want to make a list of any damage you want to show the adjuster.
  3. Photograph debris or destroyed items and ask your insurer if debris can be removed. Generally, you should not throw away any damaged items until the claims adjuster has visited. It is also a good idea to photograph or take video of the property damage. Many insurers have the ability to accept this photographic documentation online.
  4. Know that the first claims check you receive is often an advance, not a final settlement. You may be offered a settlement check from the adjuster on the initial visit. If so, you can accept it immediately and, if other damage is discovered within the timeframe stated in your insurance policy, the claim can be reopened. Most states allow at least one year from the date of the disaster to file or reopen a claim, and some states allow more time.

    You may receive three separate checks from your insurer: one for damage to the structure, one for losses related to personal belongings and a third check for additional living expenses that you incur while your home is being repaired.

The time it takes to complete the claims process depends on the extent of the damage and the availability of contractors and resources to repair your home. Once you have reported your claim, you can check on its status with your insurer by phone or online.

Related Links
How to File a Claim: Six Steps - Video 
How to File a Claims - Article

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SOURCE Insurance Information Institute