After the Storm: Filing Insurance Claims After a Hurricane

After a tropical storm or a hurricane passes through your area, you will likely have some form of damage to your home that can range from minor to complete devastation. If you have hurricane damage, you will need to file a homeowners insurance claim. Insurance companies are flooded with calls and claims after major storms, so you need to know what to do and what to expect so you can make the process as painless as possible.

You will need to get the process started quickly. Coverage can be confusing; limits apply to certain types of damage, and some types of damage are not covered at all. You will want to get your home back to normal, but remember that you must wait until the storm has passed and it is safe to do any of the following:

1. Assess the damage to your home and make a list of all damaged property.

  • Go through your home and take notes about the damage to the home itself and your belongings.
  • Take pictures and videos if you can, and try to find owners manuals, serial numbers, credit card statements or receipts for items that have been damaged or lost.
  • Be prepared to provide your insurance company with as much information as possible about the damage. Do NOT throw away or discard any damaged items until your insurance adjuster has seen them.

2. Contact your insurance agent right away.

  • Each insurer has its own set of rules on how to file a claim, and they work on a first-come-first-served basis, so you need to get the process started quickly. Your agent will be your advocate throughout the process.
  • Check your policy and confirm your coverage for different types of damage. Do you have a special hurricane deductible? If your vehicle was damaged, check your auto insurance coveragetoo.
  • Do you have separate flood insurance? Your homeowners insurance does not provide flood insurance for water damage caused by hurricane related flooding (it probably covers other types of water damage, such as damage due to wind-driven rain). If you have separate flood insurance through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, contact your agent to file a claim.

3. Make basic repairs to prevent further damage.

  • Water is a major cause of damage after hurricanes; the longer your home is exposed to water the more damage you will have to your roof, ceiling, walls and floors as well as your personal belongings.
  • Make some basic repairs right away to prevent further damage, but do NOT make any permanent or major repairs until you meet with an insurance adjuster. He or she needs to see the damage before any repairs are made.
  • Take pictures before you make any temporary repairs.
  • Keep receipts for any materials you purchase for temporary repairs (tarps, boards, etc.).
  • Take steps to dry out your home by opening doors and windows to let air circulate.
  • Clean up broken glass and remove debris.
  • Board up broken windows and doors.
  • Cover any roof damage with tarps or plywood.
  • Move wet items to drier ground.
  • Place damaged items in a safe, secure area where they can be inspected later

4. Prepare for your visit with your insurance adjuster.

  • If possible, get bids from licensed, bonded and insured contractors. They can estimate how much it will cost to fix the damage. Don’t commit to anyone and do not begin any permanent repairs until you get approval from your insurance company. Beware of unscrupulous contractors who often flock to disaster zones.
  • Keep receipts for any expenses you incur if you are unable to live in your home. Most homeowners insurance policies will pay for certain living expenses (hotels, restaurant meals, etc.) if you cannot live in your home after it has been damaged or destroyed by a storm.

5. Meet with your insurance adjuster.

  • You should meet with an adjuster as soon as possible, but after a major disaster this could take days or even weeks. Be there in person for the meeting.
  • If you have already contacted a contractor, he or she can be present at the meeting as well to discuss the repairs that need to be made.
  • Provide the adjuster with an inventory of damages to your property and belongings. Include pictures that you’ve taken of the damage, as well as any receipts or other documentation that you’ve gathered.
  • Remember that the adjuster is dealing with many claims, so try to provide as many details as possible to make their job easier and make your claim get settled faster.
  • The insurance company is required to handle your claim in a fair and reasonable manner. Don’t be afraid to call and ask for updates and information.

6. Hire a contractor and make permanent repairs.

  • After you have met with your insurance adjuster, you should schedule repairs with a reputable, local contractor as soon as possible.

7. Keep detailed records throughout the entire process.

  • Keep detailed records of any repairs that are made after the insurance company gives the go-ahead.
  • Stay organized and don’t throw anything away. Keep an itemized list of expenses, receipts, canceled checks and records of all correspondence with your insurance agent, adjuster and contractors.

8. Seek outside help if you are not satisfied with your claim settlement.

  • Your insurance company will make a payout offer to settle your claim. This claim should be fair, but if you feel that the offer is too low, you can ask the adjuster to explain the offer and attempt to negotiate a different one. Find out your insurance company’s policy for disputing a claim.
  • If you are having trouble settling your claim or you feel that the settlement offer is unfair, seek help from your insurance agent or even your state insurance department.
  • A public adjuster can provide a second opinion, but they will charge a percentage of your payout for their services. Remember that a public adjuster must be licensed in your state.

9. Seek assistance from other sources.

  • Find out if you qualify for a FEMA grant, a Small Business Administration disaster loan or tax breaks for uninsured casualty losses if you live in federally declared disaster area.

10. Help others.

  • Even if your situation is bad, there are probably others in your community who are worse off. Do what you can to pitch in and help your neighbors and your community recover.

Other Resources

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides an extensive list of resources and disaster assistance programs to help with everything from finding a place to stay to getting assistance with flood damage. http://www.fema.gov/
  • DisasterAssistance.gov lets you take a personalized questionnaire to find out what kind of assistance you qualify for and provides directions to help you get what you need. This is where you go to apply for loans and grants if you do not have flood insurance, as well as for lost wages and other expenses resulting from a disaster. http://disasterassistance.gov/
  • The Small Business Association (SBA) provides disaster assistance if your small business is affected by disaster. http://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/loans-grants/small-business-loans/disaster-loans
  • Google is a good resource for people whose communities have been affected by a disaster. It creates crisis maps for disasters that let citizens know about power outages, subway services, gas shortages and so on.
  • The American Red Cross Safe and Well List is a central registry for people to let family and friends know that they’ve made it through the storm. You can register or check for loved ones at http://www.redcross.org/find-help/contact-family/register-safe-listing.
  • Serve.gov is a government website the helps organize volunteer efforts, blood drives and charitable contributions. It also has links to state-specific volunteer organizations and the Red Cross. http://www.serve.gov/
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