Surviving the insurance process

Published on

The Houston Chronicle (Texas)

As Gulf Coast residents make their way back to Katrina-ravaged neighborhoods, they’ll see for the first time how much their homes were damaged.

For those about to return home, here are some steps to take to help move along the insurance company process:

— Get a copy of your policy and file a claim.

If you can’t find your policy or if it was destroyed, contact your agent or the company. You don’t have to wait to get a copy to file a claim, but it will help in the claims process as you figure out what is and isn’t covered and for how much.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a consumer group, has received complaints that companies have been slow about getting copies to policyholders. And it is concerned that policyholders will face delays in starting the claims process, which might force them to turn to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance, when, under their policy, insurance coverage is due. That could mean less compensation than a homeowner is entitled to, the group said.

— Take lots of photos.

Pictures or video of damaged property will help in the claims process and any investigation conducted by the adjuster. You may also want to inventory damage along with the photos, the Insurance Information Institute says. This is especially important because homeowners insurance won’t pay for flood damage, only damage created by wind and rain. You can get an inventory check list from your insurer or download one at:

Consumer advocates say anything you can do to show you have wind damage, such
as broken windows, cracks in the walls or loose shingles that let water in, will help you make your case.

Wind damage is obvious in those cases, said Joe Annotti of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. But damage caused by flooding, which comes from the ground up, can be spotted if you have water rings around your walls.

Flood damage is covered for policyholders in government-backed flood insurance programs.

— Keep track of costs.

Create a detailed inventory of all the property that’s destroyed or damaged, including contents your policy may cover. Include descriptions of the items, when you bought them, how much they cost, and how much it would cost to replace them.

Gather invoices, receipts, credit card statements, canceled checks or other papers that would help establish the value of damaged or destroyed items.

Also, track everything you do from cleaning up the yard to throwing away food in the refrigerator or freezer and related costs such as gas, new food and hotel bills.

— Make temporary repairs.

Save your receipts if you buy repair materials, because some companies won’t reimburse you if you don’t have receipts, said Alan Garfinkel, an Orlando attorney who’s handled many storm-related insurance claims in Florida. Companies should reimburse you no matter who performs the work, he said.

He added that homeowners have a duty to mitigate their losses with temporary
repairs by putting tarps over broken roofs, tearing up soaked carpet or covering broken windows, but they should notify the insurance company they are doing so by phone and in writing, and take pictures of the items replaced in case the company asks for proof of the damage. If you’re concerned about mold, ask your insurance company to conduct an indoor air quality analysis.

Garfinkel also recommends starting a calendar that documents all your efforts to contact the insurance company and anything you do to mitigate damage to your home. This could come in handy if you have a dispute.

Then get a detailed estimate for permanent repairs from a contractor. The estimate should contain the proposed repairs, their costs and replacement prices. Make sure the contractor is licensed and insured in your state. You may also want to check with the Better Business Bureau on contractors.

— Don’t sign away your rights.

If you’re worried, “Always, always, always, get a second opinion,” Garfinkel said, adding you shouldn’t refuse money from any source, but don’t sign any papers saying that’s all you’re entitled to or accept final settlement checks unless you believe it will cover your loss.

— Keep copies of everything.

If you have a complaint or question, contact your state department of insurance.


Allstate: 800-547-8676

— Louisiana Farm Bureau: 866-275-7322

State Farm Insurance: 800-732-5246

— Louisiana Department of Insurance: 800-259-5300

— Federal Emergency Management Agency: 800-621-FEMA

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