By Stacey Lemons, Business Development – Head of Office
As the flood waters gradually subside across southeast Texas, tens of thousands of residents returning to the area are left wondering what the future holds. Who will pay for cleanup and repairs to their homes in the wake of Hurricane Harvey? Will they be reimbursed for property that was lost or destroyed by the wind and rain? Although everyone’s primary focus is ensuring that friends and loved ones are safe, understanding the claims process can help those affected by this catastrophic storm get back on their feet quickly and experience greater peace of mind.
Document, document, document. The first step to filing an insurance claim is to document the fallout. Take pictures of any and all physical structures and personal items that were damaged, from vehicles to clothing, furniture, electronics and home accessories. Create an inventory list to go with the photos, and be sure to include on the list anything that is missing or completely destroyed. If you make any kind of temporary repairs to mitigate further damages to your home, be sure to document that, as well. Keep the receipts for all non-customary expenses, too, from drywall and tools to hotel rooms and mileage, and include those costs when filing your claim.
It’s best to keep a detailed journal of events, documenting everything that you did, the reason you did it, and the related costs. That will minimize the chance that you will overlook something and help you to answer questions accurately during the claims process. Make notes in a spiral-bound notebook and tape printed receipts onto the pages for quick reference, or store photos and notes on your smartphone to keep everything organized and in one place. You may also want to upload the digital files to the cloud using a service like Dropbox or Google Drive, so you can access all of your records remotely, wherever you are. Several mobile apps also let you journal electronically and take photos or scan receipts, as well, so you don’t have to worry about keeping hard copies.
Be patient. Most insurance carriers already have Catastrophe Response (CAT) teams in areas that suffered damage. These specially trained representatives are there to document the damage and help with claims. But, processing the high number of claims still will take time, and you need to be patient throughout the process. It may take weeks, or even months, for your claims to be handled. In the meantime, you have an obligation under the terms of your coverage to do anything you can to minimize damages. If you have five feet of water in your home, you may not be able to do much, but the key is to take whatever precautions are feasible to prevent further damage.
Be aware that you may not get the full payment for your claim upfront. If you have a replacement cost policy, your carrier likely will hold back funds until all repairs have been made. Once you can show that the work is completed, they will release the last check for the portion that was held back. When in doubt, reach out to your agent or broker and ask for help, or call our main office number and we will assist you in navigating the claims process.
Keep Track of Everything. Once you file a claim, create a filing system with the claim number and adjuster information. For each claim, record the date and time that you spoke with someone (e.g., a CAT team member), along with their name, employee ID and phone number. That way, you can retrace the chain of events if you encounter any problems down the line. If you get a claim estimate or a check from your carrier, take pictures of that, too, and add it to the file. If you document upfront properly, it will help the process down the line.
Don’t worry if you forget to include something in your claim; you can add items later. You’ll want to include photos and any other documentation, and reference the claim number, date of loss, and adjuster information in your cover letter. Then, forward the packet to your carrier’s claims department to have it added to your existing same claim. (Don’t forget that you will need to file separate claims for your homeowner’s policy and your auto policy.)
Stay Vigilant. Vendors, lawyers, and public adjusters will be knocking down your door in the wake of the storm. When you’re hiring contractors and repair people, make sure that you still take the time to check their references and Better Business Bureau record, rather than risk trusting your money to someone that swoops in when tragedy strikes and is gone the next day. Likewise, beware of hiring any kind of service provider that says they will help you file a claim for a fee or a portion of the insurance reimbursement you receive. You don’t want to pay for services that you could get for free, and a carrier is not going to pay you more because a public adjuster or attorney is involved. When in doubt, ask your insurance agent for assistance. The Risk Management Claims Department at MMA-Southwest also can provide help and guidance. If you’re approached by someone and are not 100% certain that they are directly being hired by the insurance company, call us and let us double-check for you.
When tragedies like this happen, it’s our time to deliver on our promise to assist our valued clients. If you have any questions about what coverages are included under your policy or how to manage the claims process, your agent or broker is there to help. Coverages generally are triggered by the cause of the loss—for example, damage caused by wind will be covered under a different part of the policy than damage caused by flood—and the terminology in your policy can be confusing. Our risk management team can help you navigate that language and act as a liaison and advocate for you with the carriers. The key is to report all losses as soon as possible, and not get too frustrated as you wait for things to be resolved.
Remember that you are not in this alone. Our team at Marsh & McLennan Agency will walk along beside you every step of the way. If we can be of any assistance, please call.