Since January 1, 2012, over 444 tornadoes have ripped apart communities throughout the United States. Many of these storms have caused double-digit loss of life, shattered dreams, and utter devastation. After the storms have passed thousands are faced with the arduous task of dealing with insurance companies and picking up the pieces of their lives.
1) Locate your homeowner’s insurance policy and read it thoroughly. Initially you should focus your efforts on Section I Exclusions. Here you will find a detailed list of all the exclusions in your policy. Knowing what aspects your damage may become a disputable issue with your insurer will help you frame your claim to ensure you get a fair shake in the long run.
a. Some damages are typically covered by natural disaster insurance, and your insurance company should pay for them. These include reimbursement for:
i. Carpeting/flooring repairs or replacement, asbestos removal, mold removal, painting, repair of walls and insulation, loss of power (repayment for destroyed appliances, lost groceries, wiring inspection), additional living expenses incurred while your home is repaired (i.e. hotel charges, rent of temporary home, etc).
2) Contact your insurer immediately to file your claim. Failure to contact your insurer within a certain timeframe after the disaster may impair your claim.
3) Document everything! Having records of what you lost in the storm will make the claims process easier.
a. Start a Log Book: After you contact your insurer make sure you keep a log book of who you spoke with, what day you called, and the conversation you had.
b. Confirm every promise, proposal, and arrangement from your insurer in writing with either a letter or email confirming the contents of the conversation.
c. Create Photograph/Video Records of the damage to your home and personal items. Make hardcopies of your records and store them in a safe place.
d. Complete a Home Contents Inventory Log. Most insurers will require you list all of the personal items you list in the storm along with the value of the items and other required information. To see an example of a home contents inventory log click here.
Getting a Fair Shake During the Claims Process Treat your claim like a business negotiation or buying a car, and do not to settle for whatever an insurer first offers. To make sure you are on the best footing to negotiate your claim you will need to know the value of your home before the damage, have obtained an your own estimates for damages and costs of repairs by licensed contracts or architectural engineers.
Some insurance companies may scare you into thinking that they are going to cancel your policy if you make a claim. They can't cancel your policy if you report a natural disaster claim because you did not cause the natural disaster. If you believe that the insurance company is not treating your fairly you may want to contact the Alabama Department of Insurance to file an official complaint. However, you must be aware that the state is not required to enforce payment by the insurer. The state will investigate the conduct of the insurance company’s efforts to resolve your claim.
What are my options if I don’t accept the settlement offer?
Disputes that linger will typically be resolved in one of three ways: lawsuit, mediation or arbitration. By taking the steps outlined above you will be in a better position to argue your case before a judge, jury, or arbitrator. However, you should be aware that lawsuits can take years to resolve.
Your insurance company has a duty to act in good faith and to deal fairly with you. If your insurer denies your claim for reasons not listed in your policy it may be acting in bad faith. You can sue the company for acting in bad faith for the amount that should have been paid on the claim. You may also be able to obtain payment for attorney's fees and court costs in the suit.
If you have any questions about filing a natural disaster insurance claim, contact our office at 256-551-1151.