Monday, October 29, 2012

Insurance Claim Tips for Hurricane Sandy

Since a large chunk of my Twitter friends are on the East Coast, I thought it might be advantageous to offer a bit of insurance information to the people who may have experienced damage or hardship during Hurricane Sandy.  I know a lot of people in New York and surrounding areas may not be entirely familiar with hurricanes, and they might have never needed to file an insurance claim before.  If this is all information you already know, I apologize for being redundant!  

Who am I to be qualified to give insurance tips for hurricanes?  I worked for Allstate for three years and handled a LOT of claims.  I was on the Catastrophe team for Hurricane Ike and every major disaster that happened since.  So my advice is coming from that experience.  Different insurance companies may handle things slightly differently, so take this with a grain of salt.  

Hurricane Insurance Claim Guide

  • First thing's first:  Wait until you're safe and calm before you call the insurance company.  Don't call in the middle of the storm when you might lose power, and don't call if you might be in immediate danger, ie if you're in a house whose roof is being blown off.  Call emergency services first.  
  • Be prepared to wait for several hours for your call to go through during a catastrophe and in the days surrounding it.  Understand that there are thousands of other people calling to file claims at exactly the same time.  In a lot of cases, you'll have the option to have the phone system take down your number and call you back when a representative is available.  Do that.  
  • When filing a claim, you will need the following information:  Your name, address, phone number, phone number for where you're staying (if not at home), policy number, and extent of the damage.  If you don't have all of that information, it's OK, but the more thorough you can be during the first call, the better.  
  • Take pictures of everything.  Separate damaged items from salvageable items and only throw something away if it might cause a health hazard.  If you make any changes to your home whatsoever, save your receipts.  
  • It's your responsibility to prevent your home from sustaining further damage.  For example, you may need to put a tarp on your roof or have someone haul away a tree that fell on your property.  Take before and after photos and save all of your receipts.  
  • If your home is unliveable, you can be reimbursed for meals eaten away from home and a stay in the hotel.  Just save your receipts.  For the most part, lack of running water and electricity is enough to qualify your home as unliveable, so it doesn't need to have sustained significant damage for you to claim this.  
  • If you lost food due to a power outage, you can most likely make a claim to get your costs reimbursed even if the rest of your home sustained no damage.  Save the labels from everything you had to throw out.  If you still have the receipt, keep that on hand too.  It also helps to take pictures.  
  • If your home was damaged by rising water (ie, water coming up through your basement's sump pump, or through the doors at ground level from outside), your insurance company will most likely consider this to be a flood claim.  If you don't have flood insurance, this claim may not be covered.  Other damage, such as the damage done to your roof, will be considered wind damage and would be covered under your main insurance policy.  
  • If you rent an apartment or condo, your landlord's insurance policy will cover the physical damage to the property.  You will need to file a claim with your renter's insurance to replace any damaged personal items, though.  Your renter's insurance may also pay for you to stay in a hotel while your apartment is being repaired if the landlord can't cover it.  
Be aware that it can take anywhere from 3-5 days to get called back regarding your claim.  Don't panic.  The insurance company has not forgotten about you.  Here's what happens after you file:  
  • The person who took your claim will put all of the information into a computer system, which will then sort and prioritize the claim. 
  • Claims are assigned in order of severity to Catastrophe Adjusters.  These are mobile adjusters who are called in from surrounding areas to assist with a high claim volume.  
  • The CAT adjuster will then call you to arrange an inspection if an appointment hasn't already been made.  They'll then walk you through the process and provide you with contact information.  
If your home is unliveable, make sure you let the person you file the claim with know.  During non-catastrophe times, insurance companies can often make referrals to restoration companies etc., but this isn't available during a catastrophe.  In other words, the insurance company won't be sending anyone out to pump the water out of your basement the night you file the claim.  Just do your best to prevent further damage from happening, answer the insurance company's questions as thoroughly as possible, and remove yourself from harm's way.  

Another important thing to remember:  During a hurricane or other major catastrophe, insurance companies will set up mobile claims stations throughout the neighborhood.  These will usually be parked in a major public place, like a Wal-Mart parking lot or school.  You can stop off at that place and provide your claim number to receive a check or pre-paid VISA card that can be used to pay for hotel, food, etc. while your home is unlivable.  You can check your insurance company's website to see what the closest location is for your company.  

There's just a little bit of information that might help you weather Hurricane Sandy.  If you have any questions, go ahead and leave them in the comments and I'll help as best I can.  Also, please share this with anyone you think might benefit from this information, and everybody be safe out there :)

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