Hurricane Irene: Handling home insurance claims
Given the hassles that homeowners experienced in filing insurance claims after Hurricane Katrina, the Consumer Federation of America is urging policyholders affected by Hurricane Irene to be attentive to their insurance claims so they can get “full and fair” settlements.
The nonprofit consumer group says Hurricane Irene could result in several hundred thousand claims for wind damage to homes but fewer than 100,000 flood insurance claims. Hurricane Katrina resulted in 1.2 million wind claims and more than 500,000 flood claims.
Except in the most hurricane-prone areas, standard homeowner’s insurance policies cover wind damage; separate flood insurance coverage must be purchased, normally from the National Flood Insurance Program.
Payments for wind damage from Hurricane Irene likely will exceed $5 billion, the consumer group says, while flood claims likely won’t surpass $2 billion. Relatively few people have flood insurance along Irene’s current path compared with where Katrina hit.
“Not all insurance companies handle claims badly, so go into the claims process with an open mind,” Robert Hunter, insurance director for the Consumer Federation of America, says in a news release. “Be vigilant, though, or you run the real risk of being shortchanged.”
Here are some of the federation’s tips about dealing with homeowner’s insurance claims after Hurricane Irene:
• Consumers in the path of the storm should locate their homeowner’s insurance policies now and keep them in a safe place.
• Review your policy right away to find out how and where to report a claim.
• If you have a legitimate claim, don’t hesitate to file it. “You have paid your premium and are entitled to coverage,” the group says.
• Report your claim as promptly as possible, as insurance companies generally handle them on a first-come, first-served basis.
• Once your claim is reported, be sure to write down your claim number.
• When your insurance company sends an adjuster to survey your damage, ask whether he’s an employee of the insurer or is an independent adjuster. If he is an independent adjuster, find out whether he’s authorized to make claim decisions and payments on behalf of your insurance company.
• Once you file a claim, you should immediately start compiling a notebook documenting all of your contact with the insurance company. List the date, the time and a brief description of each exchange. “If an adjuster says he or she will come and does not, write it down. If an adjuster is rude, write it down,” the consumer group says.
• Take pictures of your possessions before the storm and keep them in a safe place.
• Hold onto receipts for emergency repairs and for temporary housing. These costs may be reimbursable under the “additional living expense” portion of your homeowner’s policy.