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After the Storm: Making Sure Your Insurer Pays Up

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, many policy holders will file damage claims only to discover how hard it can really be to collect benefits from homeowners and disaster coverage. The fallout from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 changed the dynamic between insurers and policy holders. Deductibles for hurricane wind coverage have steadily climbed upward while other policy limitations have crept into the fine print, lying undiscovered until a claim is filed. The simple fact is that insurers don’t want to pay benefits, which appear as a loss on their books. If they can get out of paying you, they will.

Tactics to Improve Your Chance of Receiving Your Insurance Benefits

The most important thing you can to is to file your claim quickly. Then shift into record-keeping mode. Get a notebook, write down your claim number, and start making short entries about every single interaction you have with the company. Always note date and time, the details of the exchange, and if possible the name and job title of the person with whom you are dealing.

The first person you will encounter directly is your adjuster. Find out if this person works for the insurance company or is an independent contractor. If the adjuster is a contractor, get all the information about his or her company and find out if they are authorized to actually make decisions about payments. If so, and you are denied, this sets the stage for an appeal directly to your insurer.

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Evidence is Your Best Friend; Go Looking for It Camera in Hand

Of course, in the ideal situation you would have cataloged and photographed your belongings before the storm hit. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you didn’t — the people who actually take that step are few and far between. But think about it. How many photographs have you taken in your living room? Is there one that shows your grandmother’s antique hutch clearly before it was ruined in the flood? If so, that family photo is also proof of the prior condition of the item in question.

Although you may not have had your camera in hand before the storm, don’t be without it in the aftermath, even it it’s just the camera in your phone. Document the damage from the instant you are able to survey your property and belongings. The visual impact of comparing the before and after is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal, especially if an insurance dispute should go all the way to court. (Although no one wants to go through the hassle, the courts do rule consistently for insurance customers, especially when the policy language is convoluted and the cause of the damage is incontrovertible.)

Do Not Go Quietly Into Claim Denial

This is very much a case of wanting to be the squeaky wheel. Don’t be hesitant about climbing the ladder of authority when a claim is denied. If you get nowhere with the company, go to the state insurance department. Once an insurer has given you a reason for denying a claim, they can’t come up with new reasons, so higher level reviews are often successful. Let’s face it, cheap insurance doesn’t do you any good if you don’t get the benefits, but the sad fact of life is that you will likely have to fight for what is rightfully yours.

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