6 On Your Side: Consumer Confidence, how and when to file an insurance claim

How and when to file an insurance claim

(ABC 6 News) – Before mother nature packs a punch on your home, it’s important to know what to do after she leaves town.

We’re talking about understanding your homeowner’s insurance policy before you need it; whether it’s a storm, flood or tornado.

Safety first. If your damage is catastrophic, start the claim process only when it’s safe and okay for you to be in the home. Contact your insurer as soon as possible; document everything.

Take plenty of photos and videos. Make a list of what was damaged and needs repair.

If you can’t get to your property, ask your insurer how to proceed to get the process moving; and make sure you’re there when the adjuster visits, so you see what they see.

Document all contacts with your insurer, and keep detailed notes. Everything from missed appointments, to what you discussed, even if they were rude.

Keep every receipt; a standard homeowners policy reimburses for living expenses if you have to stay outside your home, for a period of time. You’ll want these receipts if there’s a disagreement, or you end up in court.

“After talking with your insurer, do the stopgap work. That is, repairs that must be done immediately to prevent further damage. For example, you might need a plumber to close of water lines,” said Tobie Stanger of Consumer Reports.

A standard homeowner’s insurance policy covers damage to the structure and personal property, up to certain limits, and minus your deductible.

Replacement cost coverage pays to rebuild your home and replace stolen or damaged items, at today’s prices.

Actual cash value coverage pays to rebuild your home and replace stolen or damaged items, but factors in depreciation.

“If it’s minor damage, like a few thousand dollars, it might not be worth filing a claim, because in the long run it could cost you more in potential premium increases. And if you file too many claims in a short period, you might get dropped,” said Stanger.

But there might be exceptions after some storm.

Take water damage for example; small spots on a wall or ceiling could indicate a bigger mess inside a wall or attic. Reporting it now shows you’ve reported promptly.

Finally, you might want to turn to someone called a public adjuster, if it’s a large claim like a total loss. They work on your behalf and represent you.

But it will cost you. In some states, a public adjuster’s fees are capped at 10% to 12% of the insurance payout. Other states have no percentage caps, and adjusters charge an hourly or flat fee.

If you think the wording in your policy could be misleading, have an attorney specializing in insurance law look it over. The Consumer Federation of America notes, that courts have consistently favoured policyholders on policy ambiguities.

You can also file a complaint with your state’s insurance department.