Hurricane Irma: What To Do Now and After The Storm
Hurricane Irma may prove to be among the biggest natural disasters in history in terms of the total dollar value of loss. According to early insurance industry estimates, the damage could total up to $125-$130 billion. This is not just because of the strength of the storm, but the sheer size of it. Bryan Norcross, hurricane specialist at the Weather Channel, tweeted, “The hurricane force winds in Irma are wider than Florida.” Irma will likely cause damage up to 200 miles away from the eyewall.
Nevertheless, you can rest assured that the insurance industry will be ready and able to honor their promises to policyholders.
If you are among those affected by the storm, here is what you need to know:
- If your house is structurally unsound or has undergone extensive damage, or is otherwise unsafe, do not try to re-enter your home. Do not become a casualty yourself.
- Keep track of any insurance policy numbers.
- Major insurance companies are moving disaster teams into storm-affected areas. These teams consist of administrators as well as trained catastrophe adjustors. They do this in order to ensure that claims are processed quickly, and checks issued as fast as possible so you and your community can get back on your feet.
- Report claims as soon as possible. Claims processing centers for most major property and auto insurance companies are operating 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The sooner you report your claim, the smoother the process will be and the faster you may receive a settlement.
- If possible, have your policy number, current address (where you can be reached if you cannot return home yet), and phone number.
Once you initiate a claim, a catastrophe adjustor will go to your property and conduct an in-person assessment. The adjustor will compare the loss against your policy and calculate your settlement by the terms of your insurance contract, minus any applicable deductibles. They may also deduct for depreciation, depending on the terms of your contract. You will shortly hear from your insurance carrier with your settlement amount. If coverage is denied, you will receive an explanation from your carrier.
Other claims tips
- For the fastest possible settlement, have an inventory prepared of insured property.
- Take photos of the damage, if you can safely do so.
- Make necessary temporary or emergency repairs. As an insured, you have a duty to make any immediate repairs or take mitigation measures that you can to prevent further damage to your property. In Florida this extends to a maximum of $3,000 worth of repairs, or 1 percent of your Coverage A limit.
- Do not attempt permanent repairs without the authorization from your insurance company, or the work may not be fully covered.
- Get a copy of any relevant police or fire department reports.
- Keep receipts for additional living expenses incurred as a result of the storm.
- Keep receipts for any repairs done.
- Don’t throw out any damaged property until after your adjuster has visited.
- Put together a list of questions to ask your adjuster.
- Get written estimates from licensed and insured contractors.
- If the actual cost of repairs/replacement turns out to be more than the original submitted estimate, call your adjustor or carrier to see whether you are eligible for a supplemental payment.
- Review your policy and determine what is and isn’t covered under your policy. You may want to brush up on key concepts like your deductible, replacement cost versus fair value coverage, and the like. Each of these concepts becomes critically important at claim time.
- Understand the limits of coverage. For example, hurricane/windstorm insurance does not generally cover damage from floods. For that you need coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program, or other coverage. However, if the wind tore off part of your roof, and rain soaked your drywall and did other damage as a result, then that may be covered under your windstorm/hurricane insurance policy.
- Your insurance company will send an adjustor to your property for an in-person assessment at no cost to you. However, you don’t have to use your carrier’s adjustor.
Plan for the next disaster. For example, adjust coverage limits as necessary, and conduct a detailed inventory of your belongings to document future claims. One valuable resource is www.knowyourstuff.org, a free app that facilitates taking a photo inventory of your belongings and uploading it to the cloud. This can go a long way towards making the claims process smoother and faster in the future.
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