Following are consumer advocates’ tips for filing – and collecting — an insurance claim:
Report your claim as promptly as possible. Insurance companies handle claims on a first come, first served basis. You’ll need to make sure your claim exceeds your deductible and note your claim number, which is used to locate your claim.
Keep receipts for expenditures for repairs needed to secure your home as well as living expenses, such as hotels and meals if you couldn’t promptly return home following the storm. For wind claims, you should be reimbursed for additional living expenses, but if your claim is limited to flood insurance, additional living expenses aren’t covered.
When the insurance company adjuster comes to survey your damage: ask if he or she is an employee or an independent adjuster hired by the company. If your representative is an independent adjuster, ask if they are authorized to make claim decisions and payments on behalf of your insurance company. Also, ask for the name of the in-house company adjuster to whom the independent adjuster will forward your information.
Many insurance companies will recommend a contractor for you, but you aren’t obligated to use them — you have a right to hire your own contractor. Beware of fly-by-night operations or storm chasers and choose a local, reputable company that is familiar with the area and understands your situation.
Keep good records and take lots of photos of your damaged property. Note what your insurance company says and does- or doesn’t say or do- with your claim.
If the settlement offer is too low, file an appeal. Ask for your insurer’s position in writing and make sure its response contains the specific language used to deny or limit your claim. “Claim and coverage disputes are rarely black and white or simple,” United Policyholders’ Amy Bach said. If all else fails, complain to your state insurance regulator or hire a lawyer.
Follow the same procedure for a flood insurance claim, but direct complaints to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA oversees the National Flood Insurance Program. “Flood insurance claims after both Katrina and Sandy were handled very badly, and many Sandy claims are still being settled,” CFA’s Hunter said. “This sad history should not deter you from seeking fair compensation for losses caused by Hurricane Harvey.”
“Prepare to push for a fair and full insurance settlement,” said Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, which represents consumers. “We’ve seen too many disasters in which residents face the second nightmare after the storm passes and they start dealing with their insurance companies.”
A similar message came from Director of Insurance J. Robert Hunter of the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), a former Texas insurance commissioner.
“Because so many consumers experienced severe claims problems in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, we urge homeowners dealing with losses caused by Hurricane Harvey to be vigilant with their insurance companies, including the insurers settling National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims, to ensure that these homeowners receive a full and fair settlement,” Hunter said.