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How to Make Insurance Claims After a Hurricane

Nov. 1, 2016
Homeowners Insurance, Insurance
How to Make Insurance Claims After a Hurricane
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If your home were hit by a hurricane, you’d probably be eager to get the insurance claims process rolling so you can recover. But where do you start? And how can you make sure to get the payout you’re entitled to?

Follow this checklist to avoid costly mistakes and delays as you put your life back in order.

First steps

Alert your insurance company: Notify your insurer that you need to file a claim. Ask how long it will take until you get a visit from an adjuster — the person who will inspect the damage and help you arrive at a settlement.

You’ll likely need to contact more than one insurer after a hurricane. For instance:

» MORE: Complete guide to hurricane insurance

Tell your insurer if you need emergency service: If you need urgent repairs, such as removing flood water or fixing downed electrical wiring, your insurer might send a company out to take care of the issues. Save any receipts on expenses for repairs; your insurer should reimburse you.

Document the damage: Photograph or videotape any damage to your home, yard, belongings and vehicles.

Make a copy of your home inventory, if you have one, to give to your adjuster. This makes it easy for your insurer to determine what items you lost and how much they’re worth. If you don’t have an inventory, compile a list of your damaged belongings and find whatever receipts you can.

Cover up holes in your roof or windows, but don’t throw away any damaged items until an adjuster documents them.

Start a claim log: Save copies of all claim forms you fill out in one place. Log dates, names and contact information every time you talk to someone about the claim, as well as what you discussed. This can save time if you need to recall key details later or if you get contradictory information.

After you start your hurricane claim

Meet with your insurance adjuster(s): Your insurer will send an adjuster to look at the damage and collect any records and receipts. This is when having a well-organized home inventory and visual evidence of your damage can be a major time saver.

Your adjuster may provide advance checks, which will be deducted from the total claim payment, so you can begin repairing your home and replacing belongings. You might have more than one adjuster for different types of damage. Your insurer might even rotate through multiple adjusters for a single claim.

Consider a public adjuster, too: If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure about how to navigate the complex claim process, consider hiring a public insurance adjuster.

Public adjusters work for you, not an insurance company. They help negotiate your claim settlement so you get all the money you’re entitled to. Public adjusters typically are paid a certain percentage of the total claim settlement, such as 10%. They often help homeowners get more out of a claim than they would on their own.

Before hiring a public adjuster, visit your state’s insurance department to verify his or her credentials.

Get repair estimates: Your insurer may recommend certain contractors to fix your home, but you can get estimates from others, too. Once you collect bids and decide on a contractor, your insurer’s adjuster will need to approve the cost.

Prepare to wait: Due to high demand for contractors after hurricanes, it may take longer than expected for the cavalry to arrive.

If your home is too damaged to live in, save any receipts related to hotels, restaurants and other costs you incur while waiting for repairs. Your insurer will reimburse you later. These costs are covered by the additional living expenses coverage on your homeowners insurance. Or you might receive an advance check from your adjuster to help cover such expenses.

» MORE: Find the best homeowners insurance

Watch out for fraudulent contractors: As you wait, you might get unsolicited offers from contractors to fix your place or clear debris right away. These may be con artists looking to pocket a quick payment and never return. To be safe, refuse any contracting work that you don’t request.

Collect your claim payments: Your insurer will notify you once each claim has been processed and your settlement offer is ready. If you’re satisfied, your insurer will issue your check.

In some cases, construction companies arrange for insurers to pay them directly. Make sure you’re happy with any work that’s been done before you authorize payment.

Reopen the claim if you discover more damage: If you notice new hurricane-related damage, don’t hesitate to reopen a claim. Typically, people have up to a year after the storm occurs to file additional claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

If you’re not satisfied with your settlement offer

Ideally, you and your insurer will agree quickly on a claim settlement. But determining a claim amount is not an exact science, and you don’t have to blindly accept whatever the adjusters offer.

One common point of contention among hurricane victims is insurers denying coverage under an “anti-concurrent causation” clause. Essentially, this clause says that if separate issues damage your home at the same time but only one is covered by your policy, your insurer could refuse to pay for anything.

For example, say wind rips open your roof and lets rain in and a storm surge engulfs your home. Your insurer may try to wash its hands of the claim because flooding isn’t included in your policy, even if wind is.

Disputing such a claim denial may come down to the exact wording in your policy or the legislation in your state. For instance, a court might void an anti-concurrent causation clause in the example above if it’s clear that wind was the initial cause of damage.

Consider consulting a public insurance adjuster for help with challenging denials that arise with your claim. As a last resort, you could take the matter to court, which can be a long, expensive process.

Whether you seek professional help or negotiate on your own, don’t let pressure to wrap up your claim compel you to leave money on the table.

Alex Glenn is a staff writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: aglenn@nerdwallet.com.