A natural disaster can come in many forms — hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, flooding. When disaster damages or destroys your home, you need to act quickly to recover the insurance money you need to rebuild.
As soon as it is safe to do so, contact your insurance agent or company. They will send an adjuster to examine any damage to your home. Once the inspection is complete, the adjuster will prepare a written report to the insurance company. You have a right to a copy of the report.
Consumer Reports suggests these steps to make sure you collect what you are due after a disaster:
Document all losses. Photograph the damage and list as many of the damaged or lost items as you can recall. Note what you paid for them, and include any receipts and pre-damage photos you may have. Collect these documents before the adjuster arrives. Make copies of all the documents you give to the adjuster or the insurance company.
Verify the adjuster’s identity. Ask your insurance company for the name of the adjuster assigned to you, and ask to see identification when the adjuster arrives.
Show the adjuster all the damage. Be home for the inspection if possible.
Document all contact with the insurance company. Make notes of the date and time of each conversation, who you spoke to and what you discussed. Communicate by email when possible. If the adjuster tells you to start repairs, ask to receive that in writing.
Get additional estimates if necessary. You may need these if you have custom work in your house.
The adjuster may give you a check immediately to replace urgent needs such as clothing and medicines. A final payment may take several weeks or longer. Stay in touch with your insurance company to check on the progress of your claim.
Review the adjuster’s report for any mistakes before signing it. You are entitled to add to your claim additional damage discovered after repair work begins. If the insurer says your policy doesn’t cover the damages or if the settlement offer is too low, ask to see the written portion of your policy that covers the exclusion or justifies a lower amount.
If your policy provides for “replacement cost,” you are entitled to the money needed to replace the lost or destroyed items with new ones. “Actual cash value” coverage means the replacement cost of your lost or destroyed items will be reduced by the amount of depreciation in value due to age or wear.
Regular homeowners insurance covers damage to your home, except for flooding losses. To recover flooding losses, you need a separate flood insurance policy.
If you feel you were misled or cannot reach a satisfactory resolution with your insurance company, contact a local plaintiff’s attorney who handles insurance cases. You can also file a complaint with your state insurance department.