The Path to Recovery
BEFORE AND AFTER TIPS
Before Disaster Strikes:
- Organize all your insurance documents and put them in a readily accessible place.
- Review your insurance policies. Know what it covers, Know what Actual Cash Value or Replacement Cost means. Make sure you have the type of coverage you need and want.
- Organize all your property ownership documents, including deeds, mortgages, receipts etc.
- Have your valuables such as jewelry, fine art or antiques appraised, and keep those documents in a very secure location.
- It is imperative to make copies of all these papers – insurance policies, ownership certificates and appraisal documents of your valuables. You should store the copies in a place other than your home or business.
- Make sure that you have working smoke detectors near every room in your home. Test them regularly, and have escape plans in place. In 2000, the spokesman for the Virginia Department of Fire Program pointed out that national statistics show that smoke alarms reduce fire deaths by 50%.
- Photograph or video tape the entire structure as well as all contents prior to any evacuations. This is critical to supporting your claim right after the disaster.
After Disaster Strikes:
- Notify your insurance company of your loss as soon as possible.
- Protect the property from further damage (natural or looting). If needed – make temporary repairs.
- Remove all valuables if the property is not secure. If you must – hire security. You may be reimbursed for this expense. In general, the following are some of the emergency expenses for which you can be reimbursed: · Emergency repairs (must be temporary repairs if they are done before they have been approved by your insurer). · Boarding up a building for protection. · Temporary lodging or rental. · Temporary relocation. · Cleaning damaged clothing. · Temporary furniture and appliance rental. · Water extraction. · Appraisals of valuables – antiques, fine art etc. · Security expenses. · And so on.
- Make a detailed inventory list and description of every damaged item. TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS OR VIDEO AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. If this task is too overwhelming, consider enlisting the help of a Public Adjuster.
- DO NOT dispose of damaged items, despite what your insurance adjuster says – they serve as a proof for your claim. NEVER give an insurance adjuster your original copies of photographs. Provide copies of the photos to your adjuster and ask them to either sign for receipt of those pictures or to give you an address so you can send them to the adjuster via certified mail.
- Review your insurance policy coverage and collect all records about your property. If you lost your insurance documents, request a copy from your insurance agent.
- Record all your loss-recovery related activities. Document all your relevant expenses – list them and keep the receipts. It is a good idea to keep a detailed log of everything related to the loss, including communication summaries (phone conversations, emails, letters – write down dates, with whom, what was said etc.)
- VERY IMPORTANT: If possible, be present when the insurer’s adjuster inspects the damage. Take detailed notes. GET THE ADJUSTER’S LICENSE NUMBER AND ALL CONTACT INFORMATION. DO NOT ACCEPT “800 HURRICANE” OR SOMETHING SIMILAR AS THEIR ONLY CONTACT NUMBER. ASK FOR A LOCAL NUMBER, A FAX NUMBER, AN EMAIL ADDRESS AND THE PHYSICAL ADDRESS OF THEIR OFFICE. They are working in your town and they do have local contact information despite what some may tell you. Verify if your adjuster has a temporary “emergency” license or an established permanent license to adjust insurance claims. Some insurers send adjusters into the field with an “emergency” license after only 3 days of software training and virtually no training for construction issues. Beware “emergency” adjusters. If the insurance adjuster handling your claim does not provide a valid license for the state in which they are working, immediately contact the department of insurance in your state.
- If you can, get more than one bid for construction work. Working with local, highly reputable constructors and avoiding the “fly-by-night” operators are your best bet.
- DO NOT SIGN ANY RELEASES OR WAIVERS for the insurance company until you are satisfied that you’ve received a fair settlement. Signing a release is not a requirement to have your claim paid in most policies, and most insurers will pay your claim without it. If an insurer pressures you to sign a release prior to your being paid for your claim immediately contact your state’s department of insurance to report this practice.
- DO NOT SIGN a sworn proof of loss if you do not agree with the amount of damage shown on the form. This is a sworn document! The adjuster from the insurer will likely tell you “it’s ok to sign this because you can always re-open the file for a supplement”. This is only partially true. What the adjuster is not telling you is that re-opening a claim is much more difficult than negotiating it from the outset, signing the form will allow the adjuster to turn in the file to be paid their adjusting fee, and should push come to shove, the insurer will likely use this form against you if you eventually dispute the amount of your loss.
- Consult a Public Adjuster to see if he can help you. Make sure that the Public Adjuster is licensed in your state (if applicable) and is a member of NAPIA. [link to the page “NAPIA and the Insured Community” in this website]
- Be wary of unsolicited advice and services. Question everything. If your insurance company tries to discourage you from hiring a Public Adjuster to be an advocate on your behalf …..(In addition to this advice being illegal in many states, they may give this advice to simply maintain their advantage over you.)
- According to FEMA, 46% of businesses which suffer a disastrous loss fail within the first year of their recovery. To prevent your business from failing plan your recovery carefully and carry out your plan, while a Public Adjuster attends to the demands of your claim.
- You are entitled to a fair and prompt settlement in your claim according to the terms of your policy.
- For information about your insurance company in the State of Texas- company history, financial data, and number of justified complaints filed against it, log onto the Texas Department of Insurance site http://www.tdi.state.tx.us/consumer/cpportal.html. If you have a complaint against your insurer you can file it at this site. For other states, search under “department of insurance” or “department of financial services” on the internet to locate the insurance regulation deparments.