Have you had hurricane damage to your home or business?
Here are some basic tips on filing claims.
Hurricane Ida’s $19 billion in insured losses will generally be covered by private insurers for wind damage and the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for flood damage, the Consumer Federation of America said.
“Most people who had flood damage from this storm will be covered by flood insurance,” said J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s director of insurance and former Texas Insurance Commissioner and Federal Insurance Administrator who ran the National Flood Insurance Program. “But if you don’t have flood insurance, you won’t be covered.”
Losses due to flooding are not covered under a homeowner’s policy. Flood insurance is offered through the NFIP.
» READ MORE: What to do after a flood in the Philadelphia region
Almost all homeowners policies cover wind damage, he said, but insurers have been steadily increasing hurricane wind coverage deductibles and imposing other, sometimes draconian, homeowners insurance policy limitations.
Coverage changes are often buried in renewal paperwork that consumers may not understand or even read.
Because so many consumers filed claims in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he said, “we urge homeowners dealing with losses caused by Hurricane Ida to be vigilant with their insurance companies, including the insurers settling National Flood Insurance claims, to ensure that that they receive a full and fair settlement.”
Tips for filing an insurance claim
This advice comes from the CFA on how to file a claim as a consumer:
1. Call your agent with questions about risk.
Contact your insurance agent or call the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) 877-336-2627.
2. If you have flood insurance and a legitimate claim, file immediately.
Insurers should not raise your rate for filing this claim or fail to renew your policy for filing. Report your claim as promptly as possible as insurance companies generally handle them first come, first serve. Remember to write down your claim number.
3. Find out what kind of adjuster you’re dealing with.
When the insurance company sends out an adjuster to survey damage, ask if they are an employee of the insurance company or an independent adjuster hired by them.
If they are an independent adjuster, ask if they are authorized to make claim decisions and payments on behalf of your insurance company and ask for the name of the in-house company adjuster.
4. You can use your own contractor.
As you begin the claim process, if you can, get a repair estimate from a trusted local contractor to use as a guide in talking with the adjuster.
Many insurance companies have repair programs in which they offer to send out one of their approved contractors to estimate your property damage. You may wish to obtain an estimate from their contractor, but you are not under any obligation to use them.
Contractors who participate in these programs have likely agreed to repair costs dictated by the insurance company or a vendor, and may or may not fully compensate damages.
“Not all insurance companies handle claims badly, so go into the claims process with an open mind,” said Hunter. “Be vigilant, though, and be ready to stand up for yourself and your family, or you run the real risk of being shortchanged.”
5. Keep records during the process.
Immediately start a notebook or document listing contacts with your insurance company. List the date, time and a brief description of every exchange. If you need to complain later, this information will be vital. If an adjuster says he or she will come and does not, document that.
Make a list and take pictures of your possessions. If you have no pictures when you file a claim, remember family or friends may have pictures of rooms in your house for example, from holidays or other celebrations, that can be helpful in recreating a list.
6. Keep receipts for living expenses
You may be entitled to money up-front for living expenses, such as hotel costs and meals, if your home becomes uninhabitable. Keep receipts from emergency repairs as well as any costs you incur in temporary housing. These costs may be reimbursable under the “Additional Living Expense” portion of your homeowners policy.
If your claim is limited to flood insurance, additional living expenses are not covered. If your home was impacted by both wind and flood, you may be entitled to living expenses from your homeowner’s insurer, depending on your policy.
If you have problems with your Ida claim
Hire a lawyer
Many insurers use an “anti-concurrent-causation” clause in their policies that, insurers allege, removes coverage for wind damage if a flood happens at about the same time, which could be a serious problem in claims from Hurricane Ida.
If an insurer uses such a clause to deny your wind claim or to offer a very inadequate payment, read the provision carefully to see if you think it is ambiguous and, if so, see an attorney right away.
Keep good notes
In addition to an award covering your claim, if your treatment was particularly bad, the courts in many states will allow additional compensation when the insurance company acted in “bad faith.” Since insurance companies take your money in exchange for their promise to make you whole when disaster strikes, they must act in utmost good faith in performing that obligation.
What isn’t covered by your homeowners policy
Homeowners policies do not cover flood, earthquake, tree removal (except when the tree damages the house) or food spoilage from power failures. Flood damage will be covered by your flood insurance policy.
Dealing with flood claims. The federal government underwrites flood insurance coverage, although insurance companies — known as “Write Your Own” companies — are contracted with the government to service claims.