Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Severe weather: Tips regarding insurance claims

AP Photo
    Stepan Delebzda, of Statewide Disaster Restoration, nails plastic  to a wall of a house
    damaged in last week's tornado in Dexter.
Our home has been hit a number of times by severe storms. One year high winds brought down the biggest tree in our yard, leaving us with a smoking power line and one -- very big stump.

The first thing we did was call the fire department.

Once the power lines were secure, we assessed the damages to the yard and called our insurance company. Having been through it before, we had some idea as to what our policy covered.

However, not everyone is familiar with the process. Following last week's tornadoes and subsequent calls from concerned homeowners, the Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation (OFIR) issued a list of tips for Michigan consumers that may have been affected by severe weather -- including the storms that damaged homes and property in Dexter, Monroe, Lapeer and other areas.
"Consumers are encouraged to first assess the damage and then keep detailed records as they begin the claims process," said Commissioner Kevin Clinton. "Our consumer assistance staff is prepared to answer any insurance questions and concerns from consumers in areas affected by Mother Nature."

The following are a few tips regarding insurance claims:
* Know your policy before a storm. The insurance policy you have is a contract between you and your insurance company. Look it over and make sure you understand what your policy says. Know what's covered and what's excluded. Do you have replacement costs? Do you have a deductible and if so, how much is it? Who in the company do you call in case of an emergency?

  * Get a record of the damages. Right after the storm, pull out your iPhone or camera/video camera and take photographs of your property and any damages that might have occurred following a storm. 

  * Don't wait to make a claim. Do not make any purchases or let bills and receipts pile up. As soon as possible, contact your agent or company's claims hot line. Also, your insurance policy may require that you make the notification of any damages known within a certain time frame. 

  * Be a stickler for details. To avoid delays and any problems with your claims, be certain that you give your insurance agent all the information he or she might need and that it is correct. Whenever you communicate with your insurance company, remember to keep copies and records of all correspondence for yourself. When corresponding via the phone, be sure to write down any information pertinent to the call, including the date it was made, the name and title of the person you spoke with and what was said during the conversation. Also, keep a record of your time and any expenses incurred as a result of your claim.

  * Homeowner claims. In some cases damages caused by a storm my require you to make temporary repairs to keep your family safe and protect your property from further damage such as a hole in the roof or a fallen tree. While your policy should cover the cost of these repairs, it is important to be able to show proof -- via receipts. Again, take video or photos of the damages before making any repairs. The OFIR, however, recommends that you do not make permanent repairs. "An insurance company may deny a claim if you make permanent repairs before the damage is inspected. If possible, determine what it will cost to repair your property before you meet with the claims adjuster," according to the OFIR report. "When meeting with an adjuster, provide them with records of any improvements you made to your property and ask for an itemized explanation of the claim settlement offer.
  For further information and questions, consumers can contact OFIR on their toll-free hot line at 877-999-6442.